Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In her essay “Writing As an Act of Hope,” Isabel Allende explains that she writes in order to illuminate “some hidden aspect of reality, to help decipher and understand it and thus to initiate, if possible, a change in the conscience of some readers.” The reality that she describes in “Toad’s Mouth” is rooted in Latin American history. In the 1500’s, Spanish explorers and soldiers took over the South American continent; the impact they had on indigenous societies was prodigious.

In “Toad’s Mouth,” the English couple control wealth and labor in a country that is not their own. They represent any imperialist force that takes control of land and people for personal gain. Indifferent to local customs, the owners of Sheepbreeders, Ltd., maintain their prim exteriors by observing tea time and wearing fancy clothes inappropriate to the landscape. They do not interact with the peasants. They treat the native population with so little respect that they blindly allow their sheep to graze atop sacred ruins.

Much of Allende’s fiction is set in Latin America, and her characters often face the duality of the poverty and wealth that can exist there. Wealth, Allende explains in her essay, is in the hands of few, yet carries with it the “pretension to dignity and civilization.” In “Toad’s Mouth,” the English couple consider themselves dignified, but Allende depicts them as absurd and misplaced, concerned only with themselves....

(The entire section is 525 words.)