(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

At the end of each term, Carruthers and Miss Fanshawe travel together by train from the Ashleigh Court school to their separate destinations. The journey has become a ritual, and in this no-man’s-land on the train an unusual relationship has developed. Although Miss Fanshawe has a certain supervisory responsibility for Carruthers, he seems to have taken advantage of the freedom on the train to act out his aggression, and she appears to indulge more than restrain him. He smokes, drinks alcohol, lies, and embarrasses her with outspoken comments and questions. The verbal aggression is directed against her and the waiter, but it is evident that his mother and the headmaster of the school are his real targets, and Miss Fanshawe’s indulgence is the result of her tacit approval of his anger.

In the first part of the story, they are alone in the dining car, and because the story is almost all dialogue, the reader must slowly piece together the information about the characters. The waiter has a part only insofar as he becomes the butt of Carruther’s aggression; because the waiter is new, the boy forces him to listen to his story. His father and mother divorced when he was three, and he spends his summers with his mother, mostly at fashionable Continental resorts. His mother “has men all over the place. . . . She snaps her fingers and people come to comfort her with lust.” Adolescent disgust heightens this account, and it is clear that he likes to invent salacious fantasies about other people’s lives, but what is most evident is that Carruthers does not feel that he is going to a real home. School is an equally loveless and unpleasant place, where he has joined in the communal games of sadism and victimization.

His conversation explains his aggressive behavior, but...

(The entire section is 732 words.)