(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

At the beginning of this story, set in New York during the early 1960’s, a time of beatnik literature and social consciousness among intellectuals, a writer, Taggart, meets Karla at a party given in honor of Taggart’s latest play. Its success is a gauge of Taggart’s ripening as a writer in his thirties. Blessed with inherited money, he has spent years developing his craft without the bind of an ordinary job. Although Taggart’s destiny of success is apparent, that of his casual but intimate acquaintance Karla is less clear. She has known much frustration in her few years since taking degrees in teaching and social work. These conventional paths to careers merely exposed her to the miseries of working amid bureaucratic agencies that defeated Karla’s intention to solve society’s many problems. She quit her teaching job and, early in the story, resigns her position as a social worker.

After their first night together, Karla asks Taggart’s advice. He has no solution for her problem, knowing already through other friends’ experiences the pitfalls of the “helping fields.” Characteristic of Taggart, however, he argues the sublime negativity of such occupations, urging Karla to temper her passionate need for instant and permanent effects with a dose of detached realism. Karla’s spirit will not be so appeased. Prostitution, she imagines, will be the answer, allowing her to minister to human needs and earn a living. Taggart is shocked at her idealism, if not her impulsive obliviousness, and when her work leads to a painful disillusionment, unspecified in...

(The entire section is 646 words.)