Social Concerns / Themes / Characters

Although virtually devoid of political concerns, Gilchrist's characters are extremely class-conscious. If poor, they are acutely aware of that fact. If wealthy, their money often not only fails to insure happiness, but deepens their unhappiness. Life at the country club or in the Southern mansion is rarely an untroubled one. As these women try to break out of the roles that society and the past have crafted for them, they take all sorts of risks in order to define themselves. Some of their actions, such as Rhoda's doffing her formal attire at a wedding reception to usurp her brothers' pole vault, are symbolic of their yearning to break out of the constraints of their past, their sex, or their social standing.

Although not a militant feminist, Gilchrist depicts women whose search for freedom leads them to rebellions ranging from the symbolic to the violent.


Gilchrist's typical protagonists are Southern women or girls who become aware of their limited, sheltered lives and consequently seek to assert themselves as individuals. Among her heroines, the common prototype seems to be Zelda Fitzgerald. Like Zelda, many of these women are talented and bright but living in the shadow of men (especially their husbands), and they resort to outrageous action to "prove" themselves. Nora Jane Whittington, for instance, is only nineteen when Gilchrist introduces her in "The Famous Poll at Jody's Bar" in the first collection. Nora Jane robs a bar to get the money to join her boyfriend, Sandy, on the West Coast. In Victory Over Japan, Nora Jane arrives in San Francisco only to find Sandy involved with another woman. Soon she discovers she is pregnant either by Sandy or by another man. Throughout, Nora Jane remains free-spirited and often irresponsible, moving from one adventure to the next with good humor and an open mind. The voices of nuns who educated her sometimes echo in her mind, but Nora Jane finds their lessons of little value in coping with her dilemmas.

Crystal Manning, a beautiful divorcee, marries the richest man in Memphis, a Jewish lawyer named Weiss, and brings him to her native New Orleans. Crystal's erratic and eccentric behavior is abetted by drugs and alcohol. Like many of Gilchrist's women, Crystal's central problem is that things — her marriages, her children, her life — simply do not turn out as she expects they should.

Rhoda Manning is the single character that Gilchrist turns to most often. As a child and adolescent Rhoda is as rebellious as she is headstrong. Filled with romantic fantasies, Rhoda's daydreams always cast her in glamorous, perilous situations.