Themes and Meanings
The story is intricately plotted, with three climaxes and reversals, all carefully controlled by the focus on Margaret’s consciousness. The first phase centers on her discovery of betrayal and infidelity, on the contrast between her placid assumption of routine domestic duties and George’s varied outside interests. She is devastated that a twenty-year marriage should expire in an afternoon, but he blandly carries on with business as usual. Her first instinct is to fight for what is hers. This movement comes to a climax in the visit of Dorothy Chambers with her cynical views of the different ways of men and women in love and her suggestion that marriage involves both more and less than love. Margaret rejects that counsel and decides to confront Rose; the implication is that she continues to feel that marriage depends on mutual love.
The second phase involves her exchange with Rose. Here the conflict is partly older woman and experience against younger woman and the intensity of youth, partly domestic housewife against independent career woman. However, more is engaged than that. Both women speak of love as a common, identifiable experience and feeling, almost a supreme law to which both must conform. Margaret realizes that if George loves Rose—and Rose is confident that he does—in the way the women speak of love, then Margaret must give him up. Only for that supreme reason could he have hurt her so much. She resolves to concede.
The third and final phase is her conference with George. Here, once again, things turn out not as she expected. Far from confirming Rose’s account of their relationship, George denies its substance, asserting that it was no more significant than a game of golf. Margaret cannot understand this; he seems to be giving words such as “love” a totally different meaning, and this allows him to treat women as adversaries. This attitude desecrates all of them. Small wonder that she now feels life has no meaning; she has discovered that the kind of love that means so much to women is unappreciated by men. This final climax is shattering, because the only alternative it leaves is the cynical opportunism of Dorothy Chambers.