Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Mavis Gallant, a Canadian writer, often writes of displaced wanderers who are not quite certain of what to do with their lives. In “Going Ashore,” she portrays a familiar type, the affluent widow accustomed to depending on men and not smart enough to cope with ordinary life. Mrs. Ellenger is not an entirely unsympathetic character. She may not be the perfect mother, but it is clear that she values the companionship of her daughter and probably even realizes how dependent she is on the child. It is this dependence that makes her act the way she does, for she reveals time and again, in her ill-fated relationships with men, that she would rather be more independent. She knows that leaning on Emma is not good for either of them, yet she is at a loss to know what else to do.

Mrs. Ellenger is less a victim of circumstances than a product of her age and background. She apparently was a shallow but attractive young woman who married well, had a child, and expected to be taken care of the rest of her life. Instead, she is now a widow who enjoys being taken for her daughter’s sister but is painfully aware that she is fooling no one. She quite simply does not know what to do with herself. So she goes on a cruise, taking her daughter along for protection. She hopes to meet eligible men, but when she has the chance to befriend Eddy, a genial widower with two children, she rejects him out of obvious embarrassment. Her refusal to be civil to her table companions,...

(The entire section is 403 words.)