Themes and Meanings
This story, like Richard Yates’s other stories and novels, is a tale of loneliness, fatalism, and despair. Purposeless—lacking either comprehension of the present or vision for the future—Christine and Warren are like windup toys. They move randomly about their universe, bouncing off obstacles in unpredictable directions, only to encounter still new barriers they neither expected nor planned for. Warren is weak willed, exploitative, and self-absorbed. Although no admirable hero, he is no villain either. Rather, in Yates’s world, Warren is a victim of not loneliness but the fear of loneliness, and Christine seeks only a security she has never known. Their actions are no more self-determined than those of automatons.
The theme of the story is prevarication in all its forms. Most of the characters lie most of the time about almost everything. Alfred’s supposed citation for heroism in the war is actually a commendation from his enemy captors for being a cooperative and industrious prisoner of war. Christine lies to achieve the role of romantic motion pictures heroine that real life has denied her. Grace’s image as a faithful wife and doting mother veils the truth of her streetwalking past.
Little in the way of genuine feeling occurs among the characters. They are less concerned about the substance of things than about appearances. Warren evaluates Christine as one might a mannequin: hair dyed, legs short, knees thick, but “all right,” and “certainly young.” Warren finds Christine’s offer of free sex flattering not because he likes her but because the offer feels like a “triumph of masculinity.” He even evaluates a potential rival for Carol’s affections in New York by appearance. He asks her not what a new lover might do or be but what he might look like.
The story is not about emotion so much as about what happens in its absence. Warren, for all his initial rhapsodizing about Christine’s...
(The entire section is 486 words.)