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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 618

The narrative begins with a young woman’s observations of her father’s careful ritual of preparing his household for the night. He is the head clerk at Bergson’s Export Agency, and she feels a mild contempt for him as a worker, for his pride of ownership, and for the devotion to...

(The entire section contains 618 words.)

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The narrative begins with a young woman’s observations of her father’s careful ritual of preparing his household for the night. He is the head clerk at Bergson’s Export Agency, and she feels a mild contempt for him as a worker, for his pride of ownership, and for the devotion to convention that he exhibits in his daily life and in the fulfillment of his church obligations. In contrast, the young woman thinks of Fred, her young man, and “his air of unbalanced exultation.”

Once the doors and windows are locked, and the household put to sleep in the jerry-built house that her father will own outright in fifteen years, the young woman leaves for her rendezvous. She hears again, in her imagination, her father’s statement about having improved the property, and she remembers the apple tree that has produced one more tasteless apple each year since it was planted.

She meets Fred, ready, she thinks, for anything. Fred has borrowed a car, he says, and she settles into her dream of reckless adventure. They drive outside the city, past a roadhouse, and, to please her, Fred goes deeper into the countryside. She is aware of his restiveness, his mood of desperation, as he drinks from his bottle. She is also aware of the assertion of his will over hers. As they drive deeper into the country, the protagonist, excited as always by Fred’s need to live on the dangerous edge of things, by his seeming nonchalance in his inability to find a job in the economically depressed 1930’s, by his failure to gratify either himself or his family, listens to his proposal: that they kill themselves as a means of escaping a world that has rejected them. The young woman, who thought that she understood the limits of Fred’s “craziness,” is frightened by the gun he carries and the certainty of his choice. She comes to a realization that what attracts Fred to suicide is not so much an escape from the tedium of a deprived existence as the thrill of the action itself. She understands Fred’s need to gamble with life and death—the attraction of the uncertainty that lies beyond. Because neither of them believes in God, he says to convince her, they have a chance, “and it’s company, going like that.” For the first time, she questions Fred’s protestations of love for her and the nature of hers for him.

She attempts to reason him out of his decision, finally admitting to herself that his “craziness” has gone beyond her ability to comprehend or contain it. She realizes, “He had always wanted this: the dark field, the weapon in his pocket; but she less honestly had wanted a little of both worlds: irresponsibility and a safe love, danger and a secure heart.”

The young woman leaves Fred, and the last word that she hears him speak is “damnation” as he stumbles over a root. The sound of the word fills her with horror. She makes her way to the roadhouse as it begins to rain and asks a stranger for a lift to London. The young man who offers to take her to Golding’s Park, suffering from much the same social and economic malaise that Fred has experienced, offers to drive her to Maidenhead instead, but she refuses. “Hell of a life,” he says. She makes her way to the jerry-built villa, and once inside, she locks the door firmly against the rain and the escape that Fred offered her. She recognizes now, as she did not at the story’s beginning, the bravery of her father’s refusal to give in to the dark.

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