Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Kay Boyle, an American expatriate writer who lived in Europe from the late 1920’s until the early 1940’s, wrote on political themes in several of her best-known stories. Boyle here focuses on the summer of 1934, a period of political unrest in Austria that followed the riots of the previous winter, when the Dollfuss government had used troops and artillery against workers in the Karl Marx Hof apartment complex in Vienna. All the events of Boyle’s narrative, though completely fictional, closely relate to the actual historical accounts. The elapsed time is about one month, from the end of June until July 25 (the day of Chancellor Dollfuss’s murder).

The resident doctor, who has been spending so much time climbing the mountain near his house and returning late in the evening, is one of the right-wing Nazi sympathizers who have been accused of burning fiery swastikas on the mountain heights and are being investigated by the Heimwehr. The mountain setting (“snow shining hard and diamond-bright on their brows”) is an appropriate backdrop for the action, a Wagnerian setting for the Aryan supermen of Nazi legend. However, the fiery symbols on the mountain are only one aspect of the doctor’s personality, which combines “tenderness and knowledge,” “resolve” and “compassion.” Even his wife is seen in a more humanitarian light when the student-doctor’s coat catches fire (the Wagnerian fire of purification?) and she helps save him from serious injury. Later, the young doctor feels “defenceless” as he watches the mountain beacons of “disaster”; the silver swastikas on the black uniforms resemble too closely the burning...

(The entire section is 680 words.)


(Short Stories for Students)

One of the main themes in ‘‘The White Horses of Vienna’’ is prejudice; in this case, anti-Semitism. The...

(The entire section is 569 words.)