Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The Gioconda Smile” is an ironic, even cynical, presentation of human life as a concatenation of events that are ruled by passions rather than reason and that are ultimately at the disposal of a capricious and indifferent fate. Hutton, who begins the story in a fortunate, even enviable position of wealth and ease, loses his good name and ultimately his life because of his overindulgence in sexual escapades that he admits are not even really pleasurable. He is sped to his fall by Miss Spence, whose narrow but intense passions, fueled by Hutton’s own indiscreet flirtations, overflow their bounds and shift from love to hatred. She poisons Hutton’s wife in order to take her place. Once she is denied her reward, she places the blame for the murder on Hutton, preferring to see him dead rather than in the arms of another woman. It is the revenge of the woman scorned. In a sense, the relationship has a classic form of desire, disappointment, and destruction.

Classic though it may be, Hutton’s fall has nothing of true tragedy in it. He is certainly far from a great man in Aristotle’s sense, for there is nothing truly noble or even fundamentally decent about him. He refrains from worse crimes than adultery mainly through a kind of moral sloth, which deters him from undertaking anything more serious than casual affairs, indulged through whim and physical desire. Ironically, neither his whims nor his desires are satiated through his actions; his fundamental mental and spiritual state in the story is boredom. Hutton’s character, well delineated by Aldous Huxley in a deft...

(The entire section is 648 words.)