The Interior Castle Summary
by Jean Stafford

Start Your Free Trial

Download The Interior Castle Study Guide

Subscribe Now

The Interior Castle Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Pansy Vanneman, twenty-five years old, is in the hospital recovering from severe injuries that she received when a taxi in which she was riding had an accident that killed the driver. It is now six weeks after the accident, and Pansy has recovered enough for her surgeon to operate on her smashed nose. She has spent the previous six weeks in a kind of waking trance. She has had no visitors, because she only recently moved to the city and apparently has not formed connections there. Her behavior is so passive as to cause comment among the nurses and resentment at her indifference. She barely responds to the presence of others, sometimes not answering their questions. Pansy doesn’t seem to take part in life at all, and her doctor wonders if she is suffering from shock in an unusual way. Her rich fantasy life, however, provides her with continual solace. She has one particular object of contemplation: her own brain. She thinks of her brain as a kind of flower or jewel that is deeply interior and invaluable. She has withdrawn from the world of pain to this interior castle, where she feels soothed and comforted. She has no need for anything else.

As her operation approaches, it becomes clear that the real world was uncomfortable for Pansy even before the accident. Sometimes her contemplation of the color pink, the color of her brain, brings to mind a painful scene from her past of a day on which she had gone to an autumn party wearing a pink hat. At the party, Mr. Oliver, with whom she thought herself in love, casually compared her with a Katherine Mansfield character and then invited another woman out. Her reaction to that incident was to throw away the hat and flee from other reminders of the day, going so far as to lock her door against a clam peddler whose cry had inspired the only personal comment Mr. Oliver had made to Pansy before that party. Pansy’s characteristic reaction to unhappiness or unpleasantness has always been flight; it may even give her some satisfaction to be in a situation like her present one in which active participation is not required.

In his desire to repair Pansy’s nose so that she can breathe properly and take part in the life of the world again, Dr. Nicholas becomes her enemy. She is afraid that he will damage her brain, and, in...

(The entire section is 622 words.)