Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The modern reader is at first taken aback at the melodramatic quality of this story; the narrative as it unfolds also seems to a great extent to depend on coincidence. There is, however, a clear though indirectly stated thematic intent. Certain virtues of the military officer—stoicism, indifference to danger, and an unyielding sense of personal honor—are first set forth and then called into question where they appear to excess. At the outset, Silvio appears to be the embodiment of this heroic, valorous type, the more so for the aura of mystery that enshrouds much of his past. With calm and controlled dignity, he dismisses the offending officer from their game of cards; yet he does not, as many would have, pursue the matter to a formal duel. The narrator is even more astonished when he learns that Silvio’s conscience is troubled, not by a victim of his extraordinary skill, but by memories of the effrontery of an opponent who ridiculed the fears most men inwardly suffer when dueling.

The count’s story casts the issue in a different light. Although there is still the image of Silvio as mercurial and diabolically impulsive, marriage and the passage of time have tempered the count’s carefree fatalism. Thus, he was betrayed by his visible agitation when, six years later, Silvio came to finish the duel. That the count had no interest in continuing indicates the degree to which his new station in life has instilled in him responsibility and a greater...

(The entire section is 462 words.)