Themes and Meanings
“The Wanderers” evokes a lifestyle that may appear romantic from a distance but that, close up, is seen to be merely sordid and animalistic. When the Gipsy sees the farm girl, what he responds to are her breasts, strong and round, pressing against her cotton blouse, and his composure melts into an “aching tumult of desire.” His wife almost as immediately responds to the French peddler. The story suggests that she is not simply trying to avenge herself, but that she has become “infected” by her husband’s own powerful passions. The language used to describe her desire for the peddler is almost identical with that used to describe her husband’s desire for the farm girl. She feels that she has never burned like this before.
Alun Lewis, whose death in World War II cut short a promising career, is best known as a poet. “The Wanderers” appeared in a collection of stories, The Last Inspection (1942), most of the stories in which deal with life during the early years of the war in England, when air raids were a nightly horror. In “The Wanderers,” he shifts away from the wartime setting, but the rootlessness depicted in this story is akin to that felt by the soldiers whom he more often takes as his central characters. At the same time, the story depicts the uncontrollable force of sexuality—a force that Lewis evidently regarded with a mixture of fascination and guilt.
The basic irony of the story is that the wife of the Gipsy, who is himself the archetypal wandering character, runs away from him with another wandering character, a reversal that somewhat domesticates him and makes him the cuckolded husband. Perhaps the most profound irony of the story is that as Micah strives to maintain the stability of his life with his parents, the reader must reflect that Micah’s life has nothing resembling genuine stability at all.