Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Thematically, “House Opposite” poses a universal question: What is sin? The nature of sin is explored through the characters of the hermit and the prostitute. Because both these characters are nameless, they represent types, not individuals, personifying two opposing ways of life and value systems. It is important to note that because the hermit is the focus of attention in the story, the prostitute is seen primarily through his eyes.

Because the hermit believes in asceticism and total renunciation of worldly pleasures, he looks down on the prostitute as a temptress, a contaminator of humankind, and an adversary to his moral view of life. He thinks that both the prostitute and her male customers are wallowing in sin and illicit pleasures. He therefore decides to admonish her to leave her present profession and atone for her sins to ensure a life of virtue in her next birth.

The irony is that the self-righteous hermit, for all his asceticism, meditation, and rigorous self-discipline, has not been able to conquer his erotic desires. Even a chance vision of the woman arouses in him desires that he had successfully suppressed for so long. He is so tormented by lustful thoughts of the woman that he cannot concentrate in his meditation or sleep at night.

The theme is clearly suggested in the hermit’s recollection of the ancient Indian tale in which a prostitute is sent to heaven after her death, but her self-righteous reformer is...

(The entire section is 427 words.)