Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Coming from a distinguished family of artists, statesmen, and educators, Nancy Hale is well aware of the importance of the past to people. Her forebears extend back through the Beecher dynasty of New England, and a list of her ancestors’ acquaintances reads like the table of contents of an American literature anthology. It is no wonder that Hale has said “[T]he fiction-writer uses for material what other people have forgotten—the past, the meaning of the past.” The effect of the past on the present is one of the major themes of her work.

In the past are the seeds for future behavior. As a little girl, the narrator believes that her life is inferior to Mimi’s; as an adult, she is still comparing herself with others, feeling somehow inadequate—only now it is a new set of neighbors.

Hale has said that the heart of a short story is a crisis—a point at which someone must make a decision. The decision comes for the narrator in that although she may still think of her ring, she knows that she will never find it, but comforts herself with the thought that perhaps another little girl will find it. By reconciling herself to the loss of the ring (and the loss of her childhood), she gives her life a new direction.