Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The large room in which the story opens is reminiscent of a cathedral with its incense burner, large hall, and columns, and is a symbol of some Western institution. The woman bleeding on the floor represents the victimization of women in Western culture. This victimization takes place in the dark, secretly, and no one is to know about it, with the possible exception of other murderers and other victims in other rooms.

The layout of the room represents the ideas of the Great Chain of Being and its effects on women. The narrowing staircase represents the pyramidal hierarchy with God at the top, followed by angels, priests, men, and finally women and beasts. Only men ascend the staircase; the women stay at the bottom, chained like animals. It is clear that other mutilations could be going on in this sunken chamber because of its vastness. The repetitions of scenes are meant to demonstrate that this victimization is not only spatial, but temporal as well.

The man on the stairs turns to look back at the woman, presumably to feel empowered by the act he has just committed. This is shown most clearly when he looks at her with fear that something bad will happen and reaches for the balustrade that is not there. He symbolizes a search for the illusion of masculinity that is supposed to empower him; the missing balustrade symbolizes its absence.

When the woman opens her mouth to scream, both during the mutilation and as the man gazes back at...

(The entire section is 592 words.)