Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

How seriously can Sergius O’Shaugnessy be taken? Bearing a name reminiscent of a mythic Irish hero, he has come out of nowhere, so to speak, to make an impression on his times. Still, is establishing a bullfighting school in Greenwich Village really such a heroic thing to do, or is it ridiculous? Denise Gondelman’s words imply there is something absurd in Sergius parading himself as a man of action defying death. He has killed bulls in Spain, but what bulls are there to kill in New York City? His real adversary is a woman and, Denise implies, himself. His tough talk and violent streak mask an uncertain identity. He is not the master of reality but its fool. He is not in control of his time but the servant of her time.

The feminine pronoun in the story’s title is a profound rewriting of the romantic, heroic quest story. Denise, in some ways, displaces Sergius as the story’s hero. She refuses to submit to his code of male superiority, even though he brags that she cannot experience sexual satisfaction without him. Her strength comes from knowing that her orgasm has been possible because she has fought Sergius in bed, not because she has given in to him. In effect, she expresses contempt for him as a sexual object even as he supposed she was his instrument.

Denise’s truth does not displace Sergius’s so much as it shows his limitations. Her comment that he has denied his homosexuality is simplistic, and is made more so because she is...

(The entire section is 516 words.)