Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 464

The story is about the power of desire and the response to loneliness that result from selfishness. The daughter is the victim of her parents’ divorce and of her mother’s inattentiveness, lies, and neglect. Mr. Arnette is also a man whose desires have been squelched, a lonely victim of an unfortunate domestic situation.

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Fire is used as a primary motif in the story. The emotionally wounded daughter responds to her domestic context by destructive acts of pyromania that get her institutionalized. The motif of fire is further used to suggest the growing potential passion between her and Mr. Arnette. The daughter says that fire “is yours for one glorious moment . . . but wait one moment too long, get caught up in its beauty, and it has grown beyond your control. And it is that moment that I live for . . . when the flame rose above my head: not from fear, but from ecstasy.” Additionally, the fire motif connects to the allusion to Robert Frost’s poem “Fire and Ice” in which the question of the world’s doom is compared to the vicious emotional capacity of human behavior: “Some say the world will end in fire,/ Some say in ice.” Frost’s poem suggests that desire (fire) can be destructive and could cause the world to end, but rather than meeting with a physical end, the world might become a place not worth living in because of the pain of neglect and human indifference (ice).

The allusion to the poem reveals the narrator’s growing understanding of her own unfulfilled desires. For her and Mr. Arnette, loneliness is intricately linked to fire. For the daughter, fire has always been destructive, but perhaps a new positive use of fire, of passion, will become available to her. For Mr. Arnette, his fire has been squelched by the deceit of his wife, and again, perhaps a new possibility exists with his stepdaughter as the two of them decide to leave, carrying their feelings for each other with them.

Another theme in the story is the suspension of the material world. A separation between the material and nonmaterial becomes evident when the stepfather and the daughter sit in the Ferris wheel high above the earth. The narrator fears this act is dangerous, but Mr. Arnette responds, “We’re safer up here than anywhere else in the world.” His statement indicates that the material world is a place of danger, heartache, and unfulfilled desire as opposed to the nonmaterial realm, and even a temporary suspension of the material world allows for good feelings of acceptance and companionship to emerge. The mother’s (and apparently the biological father’s) inability to understand the essential human needs of acceptance and companionship (as essential as fire and water) underscores the author’s themes.

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