Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 485
After supper several nights later, she hit the child. She had known she was going to do it when the father would see. "I'm sorry" she said, collapsing on the floor.
This surprising, aggressive act jars us, especially given the very gentle tone of the story and the understanding husband. It indicates some of the anger and aggression the woman is harboring inside and is trying to communicate to her husband, though he refuses to see it.
The woman now spent her winter afternoons in the big bedroom. She made a fire in the hearth and put on slacks and an old sweater she had loved at school, and sat in the big chair and stared out the window at snow-ridden branches, or went away into long novels about other people moving through other winters.
The winter weather is a symbol reflecting the woman's frozen soul. We see her moving into a world of her own, away from her maternal responsibilities and into the land of books and her past as a girl at school. Her movement into her high school self is symbolized by her putting on her old school clothes.
All day long she stayed in the white room. She was a young queen, a virgin in a tower; she was the previous inhabitant, the girl with all the energies. She tried these personalities on like costumes, then discarded them.
The white room, like the wintry weather, symbolizes the woman's frozen soul, as well as her desire for her youthful purity. She "tries on" female stereotypes, such as a queen and virgin, and discards them along with her energetic younger self.
The man and boy came home and found five loaves of warm bread, a roast stuffed turkey, a glazed ham, three pies of different fillings, eight molds of the boy's favorite custard, two weeks supply of fresh-laundered sheets and shirts and towels, two hand-knitted sweaters (both of the same grey color), a sheath of marvelous watercolor beasts accompanied by mad and fanciful stories nobody could ever make up again, and a tablet full of love sonnets addressed to the man.
This completes a cycle in which the woman fulfills her stereotypical nurturing role in an increasingly manic way. She does all the things women are traditionally supposed to do for their families: making bread, preparing food, doing laundry, knitting, entertaining her child, and expressing love for her husband. The husband is so joyful that he bursts into her room.
He dawdled in a stream of the last sun for that day and watched his father roll tenderly back her eyelids, lay his ear softly to her breast, test the delicate bones of her wrist. The father put down his face into her fresh-washed hair.
However, the husband finds that the wife has killed herself. She can no longer function in her expected role. She cannot be what she and the boy want.