Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Beth Lordan’s basic theme in “The Man with the Lapdog,” second-prize winner in Prize Stories, 2000: The O. Henry Awards, is the rediscovery of connections between a man and a woman who have lived together long enough that they take each other for granted. The sense of loss of intimacy and connection is particularly felt by Lyle, an American living in retirement in Ireland, who feels a triple displacement. First, he is not in his home country and thus feels alien among conventions and traditions foreign to him. For example, he says he would feel foolish saying “half-five” instead of five-thirty, and saying “toilet” instead of bathroom would be unthinkable to him. He has frightened himself by trying to drive on the wrong side of the road, and he has trouble understanding what the Irish say. Second, he is retired and thus deprived of any work to make his life meaningful. Third, he feels alienated from his wife of many years, who, being native to Ireland, feels comfortable and at home.

When Lyle meets the American couple on vacation, he develops a romantic fantasy about Laura. Lyle has no intention of doing anything about the fantasy. He feels drawn to Laura, not only because she is an American and thus reminds him of the comfortable at-home feeling he has lost but also because he feels protective of her because of her imminent loss of her ill husband. His fantasies about meeting her after the death of Mark are harmless and unfocused,...

(The entire section is 414 words.)