Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Shirley Jackson’s stories often deal with the interplay of good and evil, as this story does. Mr. and Mrs. Johnson are Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde types. They are each other’s alter egos, and they must alternate their personalities on occasion. As Jackson presents him, Mr. Johnson is tiresomely good. However, one can find clues in the story to suggest that he is not always this way.

Jackson makes a point of saying that Mr. Johnson “did not follow the same route every morning, but preferred to pursue his eventful way in wide detours, more like a puppy than a man intent on business.” Mr. Johnson reminds one of Robert Browning’s Pippa, in that he does not see the realities that surround him. It is likely that the woman and her child who are moving to Vermont to live with Grandpa are doing so because of a divorce or legal separation, but this information is never presented overtly.

Mr. Johnson’s bringing Mildred Kent and Arthur Adams together, keeping them from their jobs in the process, is like playing God, but Mr. Johnson enjoys playing God. It is also notable that his solution to most problems is to provide material assistance. However, Mr. Johnson does not really give of himself, even when his contribution is to watch a child for its mother, as he does twice in this story. Mr. Johnson does not really listen to people. Rather, he reaches his own conclusions about them and imposes his own remedies on them.

Mrs. Johnson causes...

(The entire section is 523 words.)