Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The House of Cobwebs” is in part a portrait of the optimism of youth. Goldthorpe has the courage to succeed not because of naïveté but because of his firm belief in his goals, a belief that a more experienced person could not have maintained. Such optimism is also present in the older, but even less worldly Spicer, who combats his loneliness with thoughts of everything turning out for the best. A potentially maudlin story is presented, however, with little sentimentality and subtle irony.

Goldthorpe and Spicer are parallel personalities. Spicer is what the younger man might have become had he not aspired to the literary life. The two are also similar in being solitary figures relatively comfortable with spartan existences. Spicer shares Goldthorpe’s passion for literature, though on a more limited scale, and his evolving skills as a gardener are meant to mirror Goldthorpe’s writing talent.

Spicer combats loneliness with literature, having inherited from his father thirty volumes, none published in his lifetime, which he reads over and over. He speaks of Lord Byron as if they are contemporaries and has little understanding of the modern ideas Goldthorpe, who hopes to be the leader of a new school of fiction, expresses in his novel. Nevertheless, the importance of literature to Spicer helps emphasize the significance of Goldthorpe’s achievement. Creating art is far from a selfish act meant merely to assuage the artist’s ego.


(The entire section is 462 words.)