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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 675

Arrested Development Arrested development is a term that refers to a maturation process which has ceased to progress. In “The Girls,” the title characters are in their early thirties but still live with their parents as if they were teenagers or younger. They do not hold down jobs, they do...

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Arrested Development
Arrested development is a term that refers to a maturation process which has ceased to progress. In “The Girls,” the title characters are in their early thirties but still live with their parents as if they were teenagers or younger. They do not hold down jobs, they do not have friends or boyfriends, and they are not attending college or in any way pursuing a life beyond the circle of their immediate family. This arrested development is a detriment to the girls themselves and the quality of life they lead, and in this case, it is also makes the girls a nuisance and occasional terror to their parents’ summer houseguests. The direst result of the girls’ arrested development is the drain on their mother. Because the girls have never broken away from their parents, they are in some mysterious way still drawing on their life force, particularly their mother’s. Arleen points this out to the entire family in the climax of the story, warning Mommy that she must make them leave, or they will literally be the death of her.

Arrested development is also reflected in Father Snow’s ceaseless mourning for his now deceased lover, Donny; however, his condition is temporary. In the midst of the story and from the mocking point-of-view of the girls, it seems that Father Snow will never stop weeping over Donny, but when Mommy falls and dies at the end of the story, he immediately leaves behind his grief to resume his professional role as a minister. Father Snow merely required a catalyst to launch him out of his depression. By contrast, the girls do not seem to be changeable in the least.

Narcissism
Narcissism is self-love. In the field of psychology, narcissism is considered a personality disorder that is diagnosed from a list of traits, of which at least five traits must be applicable. These traits include: a sense of self-importance; fantasizing about ideal love and unlimited success in life; belief that one is special and can only associate with certain other people; a belief that one must be admired; a sense of superior entitlement; a tendency to take advantage of others; an inability to empathize with other people; envy of other people or beliefs that others are envious of oneself; and arrogance. The girls exhibit many of these traits. Like narcissists, the girls also react badly to anyone who criticizes them because they take such criticism as an unwarranted, prejudicial indictment. Arleen refuses to see the girls as they want to be seen, and so they despise her. They also dislike Father Snow and think he is slow-witted because he cannot be affected by their tormenting.

Psychologists argue that narcissism, while its source is genetic, is exacerbated by poor parenting. In light of this view, the girls’ father can be seen to have actually done greater damage to his family when he chose not to turn back and help the man he hit on the side of the road and instead chose to hurry on to his date with his soon-to-be fiancée. This self-involved and morally reprehensible behavior has been distilled in his daughters.

Sadism
Sadism is taking pleasure in inflicting emotional or physical pain on another living creature. It is a pervasive theme in “The Girls,” in which the sisters commit cruel acts. They delight in tormenting their parents’ houseguests, whom, as a rule, they despise. Their most recent victims are Father Snow and his American companion, Arleen; however, Father Snow is deaf to their incendiary comments. Thus, he is the only repeat houseguest the girls’ parents have had. The girls focus their cruelty on Arleen, snickering about her clothing, her whale-shaped purse, her shyness, how she celebrates her birthday, and what they imagine her relationship with Father Snow must be. They search her room for her journal, even going so far as to read it in front of her. The cats, as a reflection of their owners—the girls—hunt songbirds in the garden; their killing the birds delights the girls.

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