A Day in the Dark Themes
by Elizabeth Bowen

Start Your Free Trial

Download A Day in the Dark Study Guide

Subscribe Now

A Day in the Dark Themes

(Short Stories for Students)

Innocence and Experience

In “Day in the Dark,” Bowen presents a version of the conflict between innocence and experience. The innocents in the story are not necessarily pure, and the experienced become sinister. Barbie arrives at Miss Banderry’s with an innocent heart, firmly believing that her love for her uncle is above reproach. But during her conversation with Miss Banderry, she begins to view her uncle and his relationship with her as well as others as potentially “dangerous.”

Miss Banderry is a “formidable reader” of human nature. She immediately understands that Barbie’s uncle has sent his niece to gain a favor from her and that Barbie has played a part in this deceptive game. Barbie willingly agrees to deceive Miss Banderry with her offering of roses because she is trying to protect her uncle, with whom she has fallen in love.

After listening to Miss Banderry’s insinuations about the nature of Barbie’s relationship with her uncle, Barbie becomes defensive, asserting to herself that she has no reason to feel guilty about it. Part of the narrative suggests that there has been no physical contact between Barbie and her uncle, but Barbie admits that the two of them “played house together on the margin of a passion which was impossible.

Miss Banderry introduces Barbie into the adult world of sexuality with her intimations concerning her own relationship with Barbie’s uncle. Miss Banderry is also guilty of deceit as Barbie catches her “dealing the lie to me like a card” when she accepts the roses and reports that she has heard good things about Barbie. Miss Banderry, Barbie claims, “took a long voluptuous sniff at [the roses], as though deceiving herself as to their origin—showing me she knew how to play the game.” The game becomes more sinister as Miss Banderry talks about Barbie’s uncle, calling him both a “brute” and “my lord,” and complaining about “what blows in off his dirty land.” Ironically, while she is trying to assert her influence over Barbie’s uncle, Miss Banderry is warning the girl about the dangers women face in their relationships with men.

Barbie feels a sense of betrayal after she leaves Miss Banderry’s and sees her uncle at the hotel, which appears to confirm Miss Banderry’s dark vision of him. Barbie has sacrificed her innocence in the process as she “sacrificed a hair ribbon to tie the roses.” She sees her uncle as “all carriage and colouring” when he is “finished with the hotel.” By...

(The entire section is 658 words.)