Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The main theme of “Many Are Disappointed” is the vulnerability of women and the indifference of men to their suffering. This in no way means that the author has a didactic purpose; this is not a plea for social reform. The plot—sketchy as it is—is there to reveal character. Pritchett has said that he finds drama in human personality rather than in events. The tale consists of character revelations in a narrative simple in itself but complex in its implications. The nameless woman in the story is condemned to a desolate existence and virtual solitude following an unexplained and near-fatal illness. One is not told directly that Sid is in any way responsible for this, but one surmises that it is so because Sid remembers having seen her before, the child remembers his ring, and the woman sends him a written message and reacts to him emotionally. As she stands in the road waving good-bye, it is evident that she accepts her helplessness, is grateful for Sid’s gentleness, and acknowledges his right to go happily off with his friends. She is the chief one who has been disappointed.

Other disappointments are comparatively minor: The tavern is not a pub, no beer is available, Bert sees no girls, the teas consist merely of bread and butter and tomatoes, and the Roman road is only grass. The men’s disappointments are trivial and will be forgotten at the first pub they find. The woman’s disappointment is devastating and will undoubtedly be lifelong. Pritchett conveys here his sense of the futility of human life and his conviction that the very persistence of people in their struggle demonstrates their essential courage.