The “return” of the title is ambiguous. It refers both to Arthur’s temporary removal from his familiar life through physical and spiritual changes and the return of a wandering spirit to its resting place. This story is a cautionary tale that explores the shadow side of human existence, in part through reflections on social propriety and the deadening influences of conformity on the spirit.
Arthur always had been a drab conformist, and his life was fairly meaningless to him. His passions were few and illnesses constant; he was self-centered and not attentive to his wife’s feelings or needs. Sheila is most troubled by her husband’s strange appearance and behavior because she believes that it represents a terrible secret somewhere in her husband’s past or within his soul. Bethany, the vicar, is sure that it represents a visit by a devil, and they are both far more concerned with how this scandalous event will reflect upon them than they are about how it affects Arthur.
Arthur becomes a stranger, the “other” so feared by people who, out of fear or lack of reflection and self-knowledge, must think and act alike. The dramatic change he endures when he is forced out of the herd of ordinary society requires Arthur to reflect on long-repressed memories of childhood, home, and family.
The spirit of Sabathier tries unsuccessfully to inhabit the earthly body of Arthur Lawford. As Herbert says, he “just left an impression in...
(The entire section is 534 words.)