Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Virtually all details of plot, characterization, word choice, figurative language, and symbolism in this brief story help convey the theme that life contains a paradoxical blend of innumerable opposites or oppositions: male-female, upper class-lower class, experience-innocence, knowledge-ignorance, age-youth, life-death, daring-shyness, animate-inanimate, public-private, light-dark, bestial-refined, cleanliness-dirtiness, and white-black. The bride, whose inexperience and youth are stressed by the use of the word “young” eleven times, feels a kind of feminine shyness from the intrusion into the privacy of her home by the never-immaculate sweep, who must partially undress in order to do his job. The sweep also feels shy before his employers, however, although he knows more about them than they know about him. Concerned about his privacy, he wishes “to hide himself behind . . . words” and “let the curtain of words fall in the same way that the cuttlefish beclouds the water.” Tommaso Landolfi’s typical concern about whether language clarifies or obscures reality or relationships is suggested here, as well as tension between the social classes. The lower-class sweep is thus protecting himself linguistically from his employers.

During the sweep’s work, the inanimate chimney comes alive for the bride, who empathizes in pain with its penetration, the “rhythm of a dull scraping which gnawed at the marrow of the house and which she felt echoing in her own entrails” and then with the sweep’s...

(The entire section is 619 words.)