Don't Call Me by My Right Name

by James Purdy

Start Free Trial


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Lois Klein decides that although she likes her husband Frank, to whom she has been married for six months, she does not care for his last name. Her maiden name, Lois McBane, by which she was known both professionally and socially, provided her with a sense of identity that she feels she has lost through her marriage. What it is about the name that annoys her she cannot say, but clearly it involves the fact that because she is a large, middle-aged woman, the name “Klein,” German for “small,” is inappropriate for her appearance. How long this discontent has been developing the reader does not discover, but it comes suddenly to the surface one Halloween while she and her husband are attending “one of those fake long parties where nobody actually knows anybody,” at which all the guests except for Lois are men.

Several men, overhearing Lois’s insistence that she cannot go on being Mrs. Klein, laugh at her. Having had too much to drink, she tells them that they would not like being “Mrs. Klein” either, a remark they find even more hilarious. When one man comments that Lois does not look much like Mrs. Klein, an obvious reference to her size, she demands to know why not. He inquires if she has not looked in the mirror. His remark is, to her, like “the last of many possible truths she could hear about herself,” and she grows more dismayed and confused.

As Lois becomes more insistent that Frank allow her to change her name, he grows progressively more annoyed, and once again refuses to change “our name.” When Lois insists that she does not understand what he means by “our name,” he takes the drink from her hand and strikes her twice across the face. The men, bored with the spectacle, have moved to another part of the room, where they still laugh over the contretemps. Lois expresses to her husband the ultimate truth she has faced when she says that she can no longer be Mrs. Klein because she is getting old and fat. Frank refuses to accept her assessment of herself, insisting that his wife could not be old and fat. The argument grows more intense until Lois interjects the surprising remark that she will not bear his children, which leads Frank to knock his wife to the floor. The men circle around the couple, staring at Mrs. Klein sitting on the floor, her skirt pulled up to expose unattractive legs, and her bewildered and angry husband staring down at her. No one offers to help her to her feet, and one man cruelly answers her repeated insistence that she will not be Mrs. Klein by pointing out that it is too late for her to change now and that she is too old to be sitting on the floor.

Lois acknowledges that when she sobers up in the morning, she will regret her decision but insists that she will not go home as Mrs. Klein. After helping his wife to her feet, Frank leaves the party. Lois throws her coat on, not bothering to straighten it, to hurry after him. While she stands outside, children in Halloween costumes pass and one asks, “Is she dressed as anybody?” Frank approaches her from behind a hedge and, when she again asks if he will change his name, knocks her down. After exchanging a few remarks with him, Lois, who has struck her head on the sidewalk, passes out. When two young men who have been working at a nearby delicatessen come by and inquire if...

(This entire section contains 710 words.)

See This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

they can assist Lois, Frank tells them that she is his wife and she has fallen. One young man observes that Frank does not look like her husband. The other insists that they should call a doctor because Lois is bleeding from the mouth. When Lois rouses, one of the men asks her if she is Mrs. Klein; she replies that she is not. Frank helps her to her feet, the young men leave, and Lois strikes her husband with her purse. He falls back against the wall, and the story ends with the angry Lois calling Frank a cheap son of a bitch and demanding that he summon a taxi.