Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The most salient theme of this story is that of the power of religion. The brief description of the confirmation ceremony is a most poignant one, especially as it relates to the women of Madame Tellier’s establishment and to women in general.

The religious ambience, provided by the confirmation ceremony itself and its symbolic associations, causes the women of Madame Tellier’s establishment to become emotionally overpowered by recollections of their own childhoods. Rosa begins to weep silently as she remembers when she herself participated in this ceremony wearing a white dress. She begins to think of her own mother and the feelings of love, security, and comfort that emanate from mother to child during this most innocent stage of life. She also reminisces about her own village church, surrounded by familiar faces of loved ones. As more and more memories of the past sweep before her eyes, her sobs become uncontrollable. Her other companions, including Madame Tellier, succumb to the force of similar remembrances and share her anguish. The first members of the congregation to be touched by this genuine display of emotion and to share their sympathy are women—wives, mothers, and sisters—creating a momentary bond of solidarity among them. In an instant, the whole congregation, including the priest, is reduced to tears.