Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Peter Cameron’s use in the title and narrative of his story of Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky’s ballet Swan Lake (1877)—which is often performed in excerpts rather than in its entirety—provides the story’s thematic frame of reference. Odette, the ballet’s heroine, is a creature of two worlds. By day, she is queen of the swans; by night, she is simply a beautiful young woman. Paul’s life is similarly divided between two spheres of existence. In the city, he is a gay man with a live-in lover; in the suburbs, he is a dutiful son and grandson. Like Odette’s ill-fated duality, Paul’s uneasy balance between two separate identities appears doomed to failure.

In Swan Lake, Odette seems to be more at home in the world of sky and water; in the world of humans, she is lost. Odette and her human lover Prince Siegfried are no match for the sorcery of the evil Von Rotbart, who schemes to thwart their romance. No such malevolent figure manipulates the destiny of Paul Andrews, but it can be said that his own maladroitness is the principal source of his problems.

Further textual resonance is derived from the fact that Tchaikovsky, who composed the music for Swan Lake, spent most of his adult life fearing that his homosexuality might become common knowledge. His was a closeted existence, akin to Paul’s.

Another comparison between the world of ballet and the world of this story stems from their shared emphasis...

(The entire section is 441 words.)