Sinclair Ross’ short story The Painted Door takes place on an isolated farm during the Great Depression, whose closest neighbor, Steven, is two miles away. The isolation is even intensified in this story due to the horrible snow storm. Ann’s husband John braves the weather to visit his father, leaving her all alone, but on his way he stops by to tell Steven to go play cards with his wife. In situations where people are experiencing strong emotions such as fear, desperation, or, as in the case of this story, extreme loneliness, it tends to bring out their true characters. We can see this by analyzing the traits of John, Steven and Ann.
John, “a slow, unambitious man, content with his farm and cattle”(48), is completely devoted to doing what he thinks is going to make his wife happy, when what she really just wants is his company. He goes through his farm work, without any hired help whatsoever, in hopes that one day he can provide Ann with nice things. His devotion, mixed with simple-minded bravery, is why he had trudged on through winter storms twice a week to see Ann before they were even wed. Those treacherous icy conditions are why it’s truly evident how caring a man he is.
His devotion to trying to make Ann happy goes even beyond braving the weather: He catches Steven in bed wither her, but silently leaves, letting her be with him if that’s what she wants.
John is slow and kind, but Steven is quite the opposite. He is not a cruel man, but definitely has cruel intentions from the first moment he steps into Ann and John’s house. From the very beginning he is continually assuring her that it’s “too rough a night, even for John”(60); that he would more than likely stay the night at his father’s instead of going out in that weather. He senses Ann’s weakness and loneliness when he arrives, finding that she has tried, and failed, to do the evening chores in that freezing temperature.
It’s almost as if Steven knows the entire time how this is going to play out, for he says, perhaps with a trace of arrogance, “I’d think twice myself, on such a night, before risking even one [mile]”(63). It is as if he knew that he would be spending the night there with Ann.
Unlike Steven, Ann feels incredibly guilty over what they have done. She gives in to the temptation because she feels exceedingly lonely, but also because she is bored with her life. “Year after year their lives [go] on in the same little groove”(51) and she is left alone for the majority of the time while John slaves in the fields. Of course all this is made worse by the isolating blizzard, and when you throw in a man who is considerably better looking and more confident…well, this is the perfect recipe for adultery.
Throughout the story she admits to herself of her feelings of loneliness and how she longs for companionship, and admits to being bored with the life she is living, but not with John himself. Steven comes, and just before he goes off to do the evening chores for her she realizes how different he is from John, and that he “rouse[s] from latency and long disuse all the instincts and resources of her femininity”(58). When Steven comes back she has even put on a different dress and tidied her hair. This tells us that deep down she too knows what is was going to happen.
After the deed is done, though, Ann sees Steven for what he really is because he feels no guilt, and she realizes too late that John has been the one all along. She had decided to paint the main room to keep her mind and body occupied during John’s absence, and while she is left alone with his dead body that is discovered out in the cold, she sees a touch of the white paint on his hand.
In this story we can see how isolation can bring out the true characters of people, whether they be good or bad, and perhaps also change how a person perceives a situation. It makes us wonder though if anything would possibly have ever happened between Steven and Ann had they not the opportunity in that storm.
The Painted Door by Sinclair Ross
"The Painted Door" By Sinclair Ross
For a short story to be effective, it must be able to produce high levels of intensity, emotion and drama. To do this, it must convey a great deal of information in a short space of time. As a result, the short story usually leaves a great deal of its content open to interpretation and examination by the reader. Also, the denouements of short stories frequently remain inconclusive and unfulfilled. Together, these attributes add to the action and intriguing character of this genre of literature.
An essential element of the short story is to make the personal events experienced by the characters universally understood by the reader. The story must present themes which are relevant to the reader, in order for it to make an impression. For this reason, short stories tend to be based on some type of controversy or debatable issue. In Sinclair Ross' highly metaphorical short story "The Painted Door", the explicit theme is centered on adultery. However, there are other, more subtle, motifs in the story that play a very significant a role in its success. The themes essential in making the protagonist's adultery understandable are the landscape, her isolation, and the feelings of betrayal and guilt that she experiences following the central act of the story.
A great deal of this story is spent describing Ann's environment, both inside and outside her house. The story takes place in the past, before automobiles or telephones. Ann and her husband are settlers in a largely uninhabited and desolate area of North America (perhaps Saskatchewan). The starkness of the land is described early in the story: "Scattered across the face of so vast and bleak a wilderness it was difficult to conceive [the distant farmsteads] as a testimony of human hardihood and endurance." (246).
The barrenness of the surroundings in which the characters live produces an impression of extreme, almost unbearable, isolation and loneliness. This theme, perhaps the most vividly expressed theme of the story, pervades throughout the entire duration of the narrative. At one level, it serves to explain how the circumstances of Ann's adultery arise, but, on another level, the description of the terrain serves a metaphor for the spirit itself. In other words, the emptiness of her surroundings point to the feelings of emptiness and loneliness she experiences. In this way, we can empathise with Ann through the descriptive passages of her bleak surroundings. Her attempts to keep herself occupied during the absence of her husband by carrying on with the household chores further emphasises the sense of tedium in her life. The...
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