The Demon Lover Themes

The three main themes in “The Demon Lover” are doubt and ambiguity, revenge, and gender roles.

  • Doubt and ambiguity: How the letter to Mrs. Drover ended up on the table in the abandoned house, and who placed it there, remains unclear.
  • Revenge: It is suggested that Mrs. Drover’s former lover, the soldier, may have returned to exact his revenge by taking Mrs. Drover away to her death.
  • Gender roles: Mrs. Drover adheres to traditional gender roles, displaying submissiveness, passivity, and nervousness.

Themes

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Last Updated on April 19, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 677

Doubt and Ambiguity

The theme of appearance and reality is central to “The Demon Lover.” The dubiousness of the appearance of the letter puzzles Mrs. Drover. How did it get on the table? Who placed it there? Her house is obviously deserted and untouched, which makes the appearance of the letter even more enigmatic. To verify her own conception of reality, Mrs. Drover looks in the mirror, and she sees herself, looking familiar and reassuring.

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Revenge

The contents of the letter may suggest that the soldier-lover intends to fulfill his twenty-five-year-old promise to return and “be with” Mrs. Drover. Is he indeed the demonic lover who has come back to take her away to her death for not keeping her promise to wait for him? This and the fact that the driver accelerates “without mercy” may suggest his revenge.

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Her mind races, however, back in time to her mysterious, nameless soldier-lover with whom she was in love as a young girl. This vision reinforces the sense of him as potentially the “demon lover” of the title. He is remembered not with warmth but for his sense of his power or control over her. Mrs. Drover’s association of the letter with the soldier-lover makes the reality of the letter questionable, although it is a physical object. When she escapes into a taxi, she sees the face of the driver. She then starts to scream and pound the glass between them. What does she actually see? Bowen plays expertly with Mrs. Drover’s and our sensibilities.

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Latest answer posted September 10, 2015, 2:01 pm (UTC)

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Gender Roles

Throughout the story, Mrs. Drover is portrayed as submissive, adhering to the traditionally prescribed role of a woman. She reacts passively to her soldier-lover when he hurts her hand, and she molds herself to him when they see each other. She allows William Drover to marry her because she is “relieved” that he has come to court her. She is also nervous and easily frightened by weather, the striking of the clock, and the atmosphere of the house.

Victim and Victimization

Mrs. Drover is an innocent victim of both World Wars. She loses her soldier-lover during the first and is forced to abandon her house and move to the country during the second. Her food is rationed and her house has been bombed. She is obsessed with the war and the prospect of safely returning to the countryside with her family. She also feels victimized by the memory of her soldier-lover, who exerts his power over her and makes her seem different to her family when he is there. Because of this, she believes that he may have written the letter.

Identity

It appears that Mrs. Drover knows herself only through her family’s perceptions. She appears to them as a strong, secure woman, but she has buried parts of herself deep in her own memory. She remembers, for example, her feelings toward her soldier-lover and the feelings of isolation that she experienced when she agreed to wait for him. She is suspicious of the fact, however, that the letter is signed with her own initial, “K.” Throughout the story, she cannot remember her soldier-lover’s features, and it is difficult to tell whether she recalls his appearance when she sees the taxi driver’s face at the end of the story.

War and Peace

It is wartime again in England, and the war has made some major changes to Mrs. Drover’s life. She thinks back to the soldier she knew during World War I. Coincidentally, the letter mentions “the fact that nothing has changed.” The soldier is above all a figure of war and is associated with death. He haunts Mrs. Drover’s imagination. On the other hand, Bowen gives the reader a natural reason for the presence of the letter: the air has shifted as someone moved out of the basement. Is it the war itself, then, that makes Mrs. Drover scream as she is driven through the deserted streets? We do not know for sure, and Bowen deliberately leaves this open to the reader’s interpretation.

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