Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Ostensibly, the subject of this story is interracial love and marriage. To what extent can such relationships succeed? What bearing does race have on love? The two marital partners struggle with these issues from a “white” perspective; because both are white, they can only speculate. Each has a different viewpoint. The husband argues about practicality; the wife argues about love’s conquering all.

Nothing is resolved because what is really going on is a marital power struggle. Which partner will subject the other to his or her will? As the story’s title suggests, the husband feels that he is being emotionally coerced into just “saying yes.” At the same time, he is just as determined to make the wife agree with him, primarily by discontinuing the conversation so that his wife goes to bed like a good girl, submissive to her husband’s will and better judgment.

Viewed from this perspective, the story has little, perhaps nothing, to do with interracial love and marriage. Certainly, no questions are answered, and neither person offers any observations that go beyond stereotypes and banalities. The domestic power struggle, then, is the real problem. Interracial love is no more of an issue here than which end of the toothpaste tube is squeezed or whether the toilet seat should be left up or down.

Tobias Wolff’s main point is that men and women, different genders, are as different as “races.” People tend to identify with...

(The entire section is 492 words.)


(Short Stories for Students)

The idea of racism is a theme in the story, for the implication of the husband’s racism is what causes the couple to...

(The entire section is 805 words.)