Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Like much of Alice Adams’s writing, “Roses, Rhododendron” focuses on the emotional lives of women who are trying to find their identity. Reliving her friendship with the Farr family enables Jane to examine these events from an adult perspective. Seeing them in this light, she can put away self-defeating attitudes and emerge as a woman who is capable of dealing with many satisfying roles in life.

At the end of the story, Jane’s husband reads Harriet’s letter and comments on how alike the two women sound. It is no wonder, as Jane has successfully submerged her personality to become like the Farrs. She spends most of her time that summer with the family, and after she and her mother move to California, she wishes Harriet were there to tell her what to do in stressful situations. She wishes she were Harriet, living in the family that she saw as perfect when she was ten years old.

Now, reading Harriet’s letter as an adult, she realizes things were not as they seemed. Her presence had brought tranquillity to a home that, unknown to her, was far from peaceful and nurturing. Realizing the truth of these relationships empowers Jane to see herself as a stronger woman, ready to accept new challenges confidently.

Part of Jane’s new strength comes from examining her role with the Farrs, but a crucial part results from looking at the complex relationships between mothers and daughters. After she first meets the Farrs, Jane comments that her own mother always chooses friends like herself, direct and honest. She, on the other hand, prides herself on choosing people who are mysterious. When she was ten, she needed these illusions and liked the Farrs for preserving the picture of civility and culture. As an adult, Jane realizes her own mother’s feelings. This is also a maturing experience.

In an interview for Contemporary Authors, Adams noted that friendship was an important theme in her work. This story shows that several types of friendship are important: between girls of the same age, and between older and younger women. All help make a woman whole.