Themes and Meanings
The two central themes of “The Sailor-Boy’s Tale” are the relationship between men and women and the issue of justice. In order to outline her theory of justice, Isak Dinesen presents the reader with three interpersonal relationships, those between Simon and Nora, Ivan, and Sunniva.
The relationship between Simon and Ivan appears relatively simple. Ivan presents himself as Simon’s friend and is accepted as such by Simon, but he must die because he is trying to prevent Simon from meeting Nora. The threatening homosexual overtones in Dinesen’s description of Ivan appear to provide Simon with a justification for killing the man.
The story also shows that the essence of an intimate relationship is an exchange of value for value, symbolized by the kiss as payment for the orange given to Nora by Simon. It is in the relationship between Simon and Sunniva, however, that Dinesen most clearly spells out her concept of justice as the exchange of equal value. Because Simon once saved Sunniva’s life—when she was in the form of a falcon—she is obligated to save him from Ivan’s shipmates. While she was in the shape of the bird, she pecked so hard at Simon’s thumb that it bled; it is thus only just that she wounds her own thumb in her effort to save him. Simon also gave her a blow to her head; that, too, must be repaid in order to balance the scales of justice. The story’s concept of justice resembles that of the Old Testament’s Mosaic...
(The entire section is 437 words.)