Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

From the title, one can infer that the narrative will explore the corrupting potential of a quasi-incestuous father-daughter relationship, its unnatural persistence, and its tension with the absent or canceled roles of mother and wife.

Patriarchal power dominates in the Henry-Dora bond: What the father dislikes, the daughter also dislikes. Dora cannot openly tell her father how poor they are. He always uses his formulaic defense against the world: Dora is “vulgar” if she mentions money. She has subordinated her needs to her father in the belief that he stands for a vital interest in life. As he says, “The world is ours. It is our birthright. We take it without payment.” He ignores the need for earning money. It is Dora, however, who must solve the problem, even to the point of marrying Ben for his income.

On the other hand, patriarchal authority withdraws in the relationship between Kenneth and Carmelita, even though its effect is registered in Carmelita’s personality. Unlike Henry, whose novels deal with “individual consciences” (his vanity, however, seems immune to the claims of others), Kenneth’s art opens “bricked-up” windows. Dora is fascinated with Hope’s illusory world of adventurous spirits. Unlike Henry, Hope does not visibly interfere with his daughter’s life. He refuses to help Ben write an essay about himself; he hates disciples. He thus refuses to help his daughter because he believes that she should be independent and know what she wants.

Although Hope presents a “smiling and boyish . . . party face” to society, he conducts an inner struggle with himself during his creative moods, experiencing (as he confesses to his daughter) “a comedy of errors.” His daughter is abandoned by Ben, whose quest for a father would sacrifice the erotic pleasure offered by Carmelita for...

(The entire section is 756 words.)