Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

James Purdy, one of the most skillful of modern American fiction writers, is primarily concerned with the enigmas of human relationships. Employing the grotesque, even gothic, but always credible elements that are a hallmark of his writing, he examines the relationship between human beings, often within one family. In “Don’t Call Me by My Right Name,” he dramatizes the relationship—acutely painful for both characters and readers—between Lois, a discontented middle-aged wife, and her husband, Frank. One of the abiding human dilemmas dramatized by Purdy in story after story is the lack of communication between people, no matter how close they may be in their relationships. The dilemma is here evident in Lois’s unwillingness to be called by her husband’s name and his inability to understand her objection. It is obvious that Lois yearns for the individuality that was hers before her marriage, when she was a professional woman with name recognition and an identity of her own, an identity as a woman rather than as someone’s wife. Her marriage to Frank has deprived her of this treasured identity and her sense of freedom, and the threat of what her husband may expect of a wife—including bearing children—complicates her responses.

The lack of communication, the animosity that exists beneath the surface of many human relationships, is powerfully dramatized in this story. Set among a cast of strangers—all of them men, significant because part...

(The entire section is 429 words.)