Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

At first reading, it may seem that nothing happens in this story, that it is plotless, perhaps even pointless. A closer reading reveals it to be a warm, rich, and subtle portrayal of character. As improbable as it may seem at first, this is a story about seduction—about a wife, no longer young, who accidentally receives a means of feeling her own importance and of attracting the attention of her husband. Ruby lives a brutalized life, isolated and outside the law. She is no more than an object to Clyde in his own deprived life. In her desperate bid for attention, she picks up men on the highway, a behavior that compels Clyde at least to notice her existence. Although no authorial attention is focused on it, it seems significant that Ruby has no children, no role to play except to provide meals for her husband. She longs for his acceptance, or at least acceptance by someone.

The coincidental use of Ruby’s name in the newspaper serves to make Ruby more interesting to herself and, consequently, more interesting to Clyde. Something has happened to her in the world (although it is merely accidental) that gives her something different to talk about. The little news article has a significance to Clyde as well. It appears to accuse him of an act that he did not do, but that he might well be capable of doing. Clyde savors the sadistic possibility of catching her misbehaving (“Some day I’m goin’ to smack the livin’ devil outa you”), but the episode...

(The entire section is 411 words.)