Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Although this is, as the narrator claims, a “sad” story because it describes how a love affair goes sour, it is also a comic tale because it describes how a young woman who thought she was in love suddenly comes to her senses and escapes from a bad and depressing situation unscathed and even triumphant.

Peter, the narrator’s much older lover, seems singularly unlovable. He is irritable, petty, boring, prissy, and, it turns out, vindictive. It seems clear that he has no great regard for the narrator, whose mind he regards as second rate and whose relationship with him he characterizes as “shacking up.” How could the narrator ever have fallen for him? She herself confesses that she had somehow confused ambition with love because she was a student and he was her thesis adviser, on whom her future in academia depended.

Leaving Peter not only frees the young narrator from an undesirable entanglement but also enables her to become an independent person. Rather than waiting for Peter to decide whether to abandon his wife for her sake, she takes matters into her own hands and leaves him. When Peter later attempts revenge by opposing the acceptance of her thesis, she appeals the decision and wins the appeal.