Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

On the surface, “Trick or Treat” is a story about a relationship that society views as both immoral and illegal. It is generally agreed that no adult should commit a sexual act with a child. The only reason that “Trick or Treat” is not shocking is that as the story progresses, each character gradually develops into someone else. Mrs. Hollingsworth becomes Janice Halsey, a somewhat more sophisticated version of the girl she once was, and Jimmy becomes the adult he one day will be. These transformations suggest that the story is not about lust but about identity. What these characters intend to do is to defeat time.

From the beginning of the story, it is evident that Mrs. Hollingsworth is uneasy in her present role. Her flamboyant cowboy boots are at odds with her prosaic mission, a trip to the grocery store. Her comments to herself also reflect her unhappiness. She seems to be asking whether the South, that is, her whole environment, loves her, but in fact she is deciding whether she will continue to let her society define her. This vague discontent impels her later to speak insultingly to the police officer, whose very uniform represents the rules she resents. It is also what motivates her to hold her husband at a distance. Whatever was once between them has vanished with time. Her husband no longer sees her as an individual. To him and to her children, she is no more than a vague presence. She has a function, not an identity. Mrs. Hollingsworth...

(The entire section is 527 words.)


(Short Stories for Students)

Sexuality is a central theme in Powell’s short story. Jimmy, at twelve years of age, is beginning puberty,...

(The entire section is 692 words.)