Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Nicholasa Mohr’s “The English Lesson” is a restrained love story. Although neither Lali nor William refer directly to how they feel about each other, the story suggests that although they are only friends, each secretly wishes the relationship could be more intimate. In addition to William’s gentleness with Lali, the most obvious suggestion about their unexpressed feelings occurs on the walk home after the class meeting when the students make their oral presentations. Lali says that she did not know that William’s name was Horacio, remarking how imposing the name is. William, who is dwarfish, says that his mother expected a valiant warrior but got him instead. Lali, however, pays no attention to William’s physical stature. A plain woman, she grew up in a tiny mountain village in Puerto Rico and had no suitors until Rudi, an older man, asked her parents for her hand. She now feels closed in and alone. Her only pleasure is the English class and William. She feels that when she attends the class, she is accomplishing something all by herself without the help of the man on whom she is dependent. She finds herself waiting for William to come in to work, looking forward to his presence. On the initial walk home, as William takes Lali’s elbow and tells her in English to watch her step, Lali stares at him and wishes that she could be like everyone else, but in a moment the “strange feeling of involvement had passed, and William had taken no notice of it.”...

(The entire section is 405 words.)