Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In his cynicism about human affairs in general and about modern marriage in particular, John Collier has been compared to such authors as W. Somerset Maugham, Noël Coward, Oscar Wilde, and the vitriolic American journalist Ambrose Bierce. He has also been compared frequently to Edgar Allan Poe. Poe, however, did not possess Collier’s ability to make his readers laugh, although he tried rather desperately to do so in some of his less successful stories.

Twice married himself, Collier often wrote disparagingly about marital relationships. His His Monkey Wife: Or, Married to a Chimp (1930) is about a man married to a chimpanzee. One of his most bitterly cynical short stories about marriage is “The Chaser,” in which an old merchant who deals in magic potions advises a passionate young suitor to plan ahead for the time when he will get tired of the woman he adores and will want to rid himself of her cloying presence with a fatal dose of poison. “De Mortuis” is another of Collier’s cynical stories dealing with the complications of modern marriage.

Collier’s attitude toward marriage reflects modern realities. During the twentieth century the United States divorce rate soared until sociologists predicted that a marriage had little better than a fifty-fifty chance of success. Such statistics suggest there may be many husbands and wives who hate each other but remain married because of finances, children, religion, or other...

(The entire section is 424 words.)