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Analysis of “The Painted Door” Short story written by Sinclair Ross

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When people are lonely and bored, they tend to reflect on their lives and the issues they have. This is precisely what happens in Sinclair Ross’s “The Painted Door”, where the author explores adultery, a topic which was taboo back in the thirties, the time when the story takes place. This is a story about a woman named Ann, who, ironically, discovers her true feelings for her husband, John, by cheating on him with his best friend, Steven.

John decides to invite Steven, so that the latter would keep his wife company while he is gone to help his father before a huge storm hits. Ann however, is dissatisfied with John because she feels that he does not show her enough attention. She is, however, being hypocritical when she says: “It isn’t right to leave me here alone. Surely I’m as important as your father.”(136/435) John’s father is an elderly man who can really use some help before a huge storm. Ann on the other hand is being selfish by demanding John to stay with her. Ann’s dissatisfaction further continues when she sarcastically mentions: “Plenty to eat – plenty of wood to keep me warm – what more could a woman ask for?”(136/435)

Furthermore, she feels that John, “a slow, unambitious man, content with his farm and cattle, naively proud of Ann”(137/436), is not exciting and she does not agree with his plans for their future. Ann wants to enjoy life while she is still young, while John wants to work as much as possible to rid himself of all debts and to be able to provide his wife with anything that she desires. He worked from sunrise to sunset to “prove his devotion and fidelity”(138/438), but this is not what she wanted and ironically all this hard work and devotion led to Ann cheating on him.

Steven, the couple’s neighbor and John’s best friend, comes during the storm to keep Ann company while her husband is away. From the first time that she sees Steven, Ann feels a strong attraction toward him, for instance when he came back from the stable “she was in another dress, hair rearranged, a little flush of color in her face.”(140/443) She constantly compares John to Steven and how the latter is better looking than her husband: “his face so different to John’s, so handsome and young and clean-shaven.”(141/444) It is apparent that looks are very important to her. Even at the beginning of the story, when John suggests inviting Steven, the first thing she asks is for John to shave because she wants him to look good and not to have to compare him with Steven: “Will you shave then, John – now – before you go? […] He’ll be shaven, though […] and I’d like you too to spend a little time on yourself.”(137/436)

Throughout the story she questions her love for John and blames him for her unhappiness: “…to prove John responsible for her unhappiness. […] John’s steadfastness rebuked her vanity, made her complaints seem weak and trivial.”(139/440) Ann constantly tries to keep herself busy and avoid Steven, so she wouldn’t think about him. She “sat silent, tense, careful again to avoid his eyes. […] She dared not move, unclench her hands, or raise her eyes.”(141/445) Afterwards Ann decides to put up blankets over the windows and the door to keep the cold out, this is where she mentions that she “smeared the blankets”(141/445), which symbolizes what is coming next – her cheating with Steven and smearing her relationship with John.

Ann feels mesmerized by Steven, and ends up sleeping with him while John is away. She wants be with someone who understands her and Steven, who she feels is the opposite of John, plays this role. While she is laying in bed she sees a shadow that “struggled towards her threateningly, massive and black and engulfing all the room.”(142/446) Ann even thinks that “a deadly tightening hand was on her throat”(142/447) and even believes that she sees his face, however she dismisses all of that and convinces herself that it is all a dream. Ann then starts to reflect on the affair with Steven; she begins to see him for who he really is. Ann realizes that the only thing that Steven wanted was to get her into bed, which is why he constantly wanted to reassure her that John would [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5u7t0TuAnKU] not come back “Never in a storm like this one. […]

He’d have it for five miles, across the hills.”(142/446) During the whole time he was with Ann, she sensed a hint of insolence and mockery in his voice, even his body language, while he is sleeping proves that Steven’s only goal was to sleep with her and that he has no remorse “his detachment from it all, in his quiet, even breathing, there was such sanity, such realism. For him nothing had happened; nothing would.”(143/448) While staring at him she realized that there had been no passion or guilt on his part and she convinced herself that she had not felt any passion or guilt herself because John would never know about their affair.

Ann finally understands that John is the man that she wants to spend the rest of her life with; she even repeats “John was the man”(143/449) in her thoughts several times while remembering how loyal he is to her. She decides to turn her life around, she wants to put the fact that she cheated with Steven behind her and love John for who he is “John was the man. With him lay all the future. For tonight, slowly and contritely through the day and years to come, she would try to make amends.”(143/449) However it is not meant to be. The next morning John is found a mile from their home – frozen to death. After being left alone with him, Ann takes off his mitten and spots a smear of paint on his hand. It is ironic that after having cheated on John and then finally coming to a conclusion that she would love him and grow old with him, she finds him dead. It is also ironic because if not for the stain on John’s hand, Ann would have probably lived a more-or-less normal life, however, now she will have the thought that she led him to his death on her conscience, for the rest of her life.

This story shows the evolution of Ann’s thoughts about John and her life with him. At first she feels unhappy with John and blames him for her unhappiness. However, as the story progresses, she realizes, through Steven, that John, unlike Steven, genuinely cares about her and that he really loves her. It is unfortunate that she learns it the hard way by sacrificing John, or rather by having John sacrifice himself for her wellbeing.

Sources – The Painted Door by Sinclair Ross

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