Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

On one level, this story reveals the peculiar combination of fact and fancy that constitutes the mental life of children. On another level, it is social criticism of a class society that perpetuates callousness and prejudice. Although Irmgard may project the idea of witch on the outsider, Mrs. Bloodworth, because of her bizarre behavior, the real witches who destroy childhood are the adults who perpetuate pride and prejudice and who condone neglect.

Differences in language conveniently underline the distinctions between British Canadians and French Canadians. Irmgard unconsciously learns this distinction close at hand in the kitchen, where she is more at home, no doubt, than in the drawing room with her parents. Mrs. Queen, the chronically complaining cook who used to serve the upper classes in England and has absorbed some of their snobbishness, disdains to learn French. Germaine, the loving but somewhat simple nursemaid, speaks nothing but French. Though the two servants are necessarily much in each other’s company, they do not communicate. Irmgard, as a small child who unconsciously learns to understand French from her nurse, simply accepts this odd situation among grown-ups as a matter of course. Her experience of losing the ability to communicate with her friend Freddy further suggests the consequences of such class divisions.

The relationship between Germaine and Irmgard is also changing, and that link with the “other world” of...

(The entire section is 541 words.)