Discussion Topic

The theme of appearance versus reality in "The Demon Lover."

Summary:

The theme of appearance versus reality in "The Demon Lover" is highlighted through the protagonist's unsettling experience. Kathleen Drover's perception of safety in her familiar home is shattered by the eerie letter and the supernatural elements, revealing the unsettling reality beneath the surface of her seemingly mundane existence.

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What is the theme of "The Demon Lover"?

One could argue that the overriding theme of the story is the impossibility of escaping one's past. That's what Katherine has tried to do ever since a former lover of hers died during World War I. Yet the sudden, shocking appearance of this long dead paramour in spirit form has put paid to her attempts to move on with her life.

The message seems to be that the past will always come back to haunt us sooner or later unless we come to terms with it. One senses, then, that Katherine has never really been able to do that, for one reason or another. Perhaps she'd forgotten about her lover after all these years. Or perhaps she'd never had the chance to grieve over her loss. Whatever the reason, Katherine's past is now as real to her as her present, with truly terrifying consequences.

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What is the theme of "The Demon Lover"?

In "The Demon Lover," Bowen explores the theme of war. Specifically, the story highlights the effects of war on both the combatants and the civilians.

When the story opens, for example, the reader learns that Mrs. Drover and her family have been forced to leave their London home because of the threat of bombs. War has, therefore, caused massive disruption to the family's lives, forcing them to move to the country in order to avoid danger. This disruption to normal life is also reflected in the condition of the house when she returns to London. There is a "bruise" on the wall from the movement of furniture, for example, and a "ring" left behind from an old vase. Bowen's use of imagery here shows us that the house has experienced its own sense of disruption and loss, just like Mrs. Drover's family.

In addition, Bowen explores the effects of war through Mrs. Drover's relationship with the soldier in World War One. Their relationship, for example, was brought to an abrupt end as a result of the fighting. Mrs. Drover was not only separated from her lover as a result of the war, he was also reported missing and was likely killed. War, therefore, caused a huge upheaval in her life, as well as a sense of uncertainty and the death of an innocent soldier.

As a result of the soldier's death, Mrs. Drover was forced to seek a new relationship. Eventually, she married another man and created a new life with him. Through these events, then, Bowen reinforces this idea that war causes huge disruption and loss to those who experience it.

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What is the theme of "The Demon Lover"?

     The theme of the story is not as potent as many other works.  Although WWI and WWII play an important part in the story, the theme really revolves around our hidden pasts and how they can return to haunt us.

     In the story, Mrs. Dover promises herself to a young man during the first World War but he does not return.  She is forced to find a life for herself with her new family, although she is never quite happy or content with her past because of her mysterious promise.

     After returning to the house she finds the letter which reminds her of the past.  This implies that our pasts have a way of turning up where we least expect it.  It also hints that the past will return no matter how we might try to bury it in memory and life without acknowledging it.

     Finally, the mysterious taxi cab driver takes off with Mrs. Dover terrified.  Once again the past has caught up to the present.

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What are some themes of 'The Demon Lover'?

A major theme of the story is war. It is set during the Second World War, in the aftermath of an aerial bombardment in London. The Drovers have relocated to the country to escape, but Mrs Drover is obliged to come back to their family home in London to collect some belongings. The house, and the streets all around bear signs of war-damage.

Furthermore, the 'demon lover' of the title is a soldier who went missing during the First World War. So, both world wars are referenced in this story and help create a mood of underlying tension.

It can be said that the pernicious influence of war is seen not just in the damaged buildings but also in Mrs Drover's psyche. She is nervous and jumpy, and the thought of her long-lost lover who appears to have mysteriously left her a letter, increases her sense of foreboding.

Another theme of the story is the power of the past. Mrs Drover's soldier-lover is a potent symbol of this. When she remembers him, the twenty-five years since she last saw him seem to just drop away. This suggests the hold that he's always had on her and indicates that her later life as the wife of another man has actually been of relatively little account to her.

In fact, Mrs Drover feels the emptiness of her married life the minute she returns to the deserted family home, as is clear from the following quote: 

The hollowness of the house this evening cancelled years on years of voices, habits, and steps.  

When, at the end, the mysterious taxi-driver makes off with her, it seems that her long-lost, repressed past has returned to claim her in its entirety. 

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What is the theme of appearance versus reality in "The Demon Lover"?

The way that I would want to approach this question would be through discussing the presentation of Mrs. Drover in terms of the appearance that she gives, but also looking at the tantalising hints of reality about her that suggest she is actually a very unstable individual who could be hallucinating the demon lover and the event that transpires in this story.

The setting seems normal enough: we are told that Mrs. Drover is returning to her house during the blitz in the Second World War to pick up some things. She is a middle-aged married woman who appears to be sensible and practical. This would be her appearance. Yet the text gives us enough evidence to suggest that the reality is very different. Note the reference to her general state of anxiety and her being "perplexed." Also, note the following description about her:

Mrs. Drover's most normal expression was one of controlled worry, but of assent. Since the birth of the third of her little boys, attended by a quite serious illness, she had had an intermittent muscular flicker to the left of her mouth, but in spite of this she could always sustain a manner that was at once energetic and calm.

Such details suggest a deep level of emotional instability that is covered up by the carefully controlled "manner" that she shows to those around her. This would indicate that there is something much more disturbing going on in Mrs. Drover than we would first believe, and begs the question about the reality of the demon lover that haunts her.

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