The Painted Door by Sinclair Ross (1908) with PDF and analysis

The Painted Door by Sinclair Ross (1908)

The Painted Door” is a famous short story by Sinclair Ross which was was adapted as a short film and was nominated for an Academy Award (Best Live Action Short Film) at the 57th Academy Awards in 1985. The short story revolves around a woman who commits adultery due to her husband’s absence and neglect of emotions and in turn leads to a stunning twist. It is set in a rural farming community and written in third person’s perspective and it produces intensity, emotions, and drama.

The Painted Door by Sinclair Ross
The Painted Door by Sinclair Ross

You can download a free PDF copy of “The Painted Door” by Sinclair Ross, right below. You can also download a PDF worksheet as well as the complete analysis below.

Table of contents – The Painted Door

  1. Full Text – The Painted Door by Sinclair Ross
  2. Plot, Summary and Analysis – The Painted Door
  3. Questions and Answers – The Painted Door
  4. The Painted Door – Worksheets PDF
  5. The Painted Door – PDF

Sinclair Ross

James Sinclair Ross was a Canadian banker and Author who wrote novels and short fiction about life on the Canadian Prairies. Born in January 22, 1908 he is best known for his first novel, “As For Me and My House” which would become a Canadian literary classic and set the precedent for the genre of Canadian prairie fiction. In 1992, he was made a Member of the Order of Canada.

The story which we are reading about, “The Painted Door” is one of his most famous works and was was adapted as a short film which was nominated for an Academy Award in 1985 for the category Best Live Action Short Film .


The Painted Door Short story by Sinclair Ross – Full Text

The Painted Door by Sinclair Ross - Full Text
The Painted Door by Sinclair Ross – Full Text

Straight across the hills it was five miles from John’s farm to his father’s. But in winter, with the roads impassible, a team had to make a wide detour and skirt the hills, so that from five the distance was more than trebled to seventeen. ‘I think I’ll walk,’ John said at breakfast to his wife. ‘The drifts in the hills wouldn’t hold a horse, but they’ll carry me all right. If I leave early I can spend a few hours helping him with his chores, and still be back by suppertime.’

Moodily she went to the window, and thawing a clear place in the frost with her breath, stood looking across the snow-swept farmyard to the huddle of stables and sheds.

‘There was a double wheel around the moon last night,’ she countered presently. ‘You said yourself we could expect a storm. It isn’t right to leave me here alone. Surely I’m as important as your father.’

He glanced up uneasily, then drinking off his coffee tried to reassure her. ‘But there’s nothing to be afraid of—even ifit does start to storm. You won’t need to go near the stable. Everything’s fed and watered now to last till night. I’ll be back at the latest by seven or eight.’

She went on blowing against the frosted pane, carefully elongating the clear place until it was oval-shaped and symmetrical. He watched her a moment or two longer, then more insistently repeated, ‘I say you won’t need to go near the stable. Everything’s fed and watered, and I’ll see that there’s plenty of wood in. That will be all right, won’t it?’

‘Yes—of course—I heard you—’ It was a curiously cold voice now, as if the words were chilled by their contact with the frosted pane. ‘Plenty to eat—plenty of wood to keep me warm—what more could a woman ask for?’

‘But he’s an old man—living there all alone. What is it, Ann? You’re not like yourself this morning.’

She shook her head without turning. ‘Pay no attention to me. Seven years a farmer’s wife—it’s time I was used to staying alone.’

Slowly the clear place on the glass enlarged: oval, then round, then oval again. The sun was risen above the frost mists now, so keen and hard a glitter on the snow that instead of warmth its rays seemed shedding cold. One of the two-year-old colts that had cantered away when John turned the horses out for water stood covered with rime at the stable door again, head down and body hunched, each breath a little plume of steam against the frosty air.

She shivered, but did not turn. In the clear, bitter light the long white miles of prairie landscape seemed a region strangely alien to life. Even the distant farmsteads she could see served only to intensify a sense of isolation. Scattered across the face of so vast and bleak a wilderness it was difficult to conceive them as a testimony of human hardihood and endurance. Rather they seemed futile, lost. Rather they seemed to cower before the implacability of snow-swept earth and clear pale sun-chilled sky.

And when at last she turned from the window there was a brooding stillness in her face as if she had recognized this mastery of snow and cold. It troubled John. ‘If you’re really afraid,’ he yielded,

‘I won’t go today. Lately it’s been so cold, that’s all. I just wanted to make sure he’s all right in case we do have a storm.’

‘I know—I’m not really afraid.’ She was putting in a fire now, and he could no longer see her face.

‘Pay no attention to me. It’s ten miles there and back, so you’d better get started.’

‘You ought to know by now I wouldn’t stay away,’ he tried to brighten her. ‘No matter how it stormed. Twice a week before we were married I never missed and there were bad blizzards that winter too.’

He was a slow, unambitious man, content with his farm and cattle, naïvely proud of Ann. He had been bewildered by it once, her caring for a dull-witted fellow like him; then assured at last of her affection he had relaxed against it gratefully, unsuspecting it might ever be less constant than his own. Even now, listening to the restless brooding in her voice, he felt only a quick, unformulated kind of pride that after seven years his absence for a day should still concern her. While she, his trust and earnestness controlling her again:

‘I know. It’s just that sometimes when you’re away I get lonely. . . . There’s a long cold tramp in front of you. You’ll let me fix a scarf around your face.’

He nodded. ‘And on my way I’ll drop in at Steven’s place. Maybe he’ll come over tonight for a game of cards. You haven’t seen anybody but me for the last two weeks.’

She glanced up sharply, then busied herself clearing the table. ‘It will mean another two miles if you do. You’re going to be cold and tired enough as it is. When you’re gone I think I’ll paint the kitchen woodwork. White this time—-you remember we got the paint last fall. It’s going to make the room a I lighter. I’ll be too busy to find the day long.’

‘I will though,’ he insisted, ‘and if a storm gets up you’ll feel safer, knowing that he’s coming. That’s what you need, Ann—someone to talk to besides me.’

She stood at the stove motionless a moment, then turned to him uneasily. ‘Will you shave then, John now—before you go?’

He glanced at her questioningly, and avoiding his eyes she tried to explain, ‘I mean—he may be here before you’re back—and you won’t have a chance then.’

‘But it’s only Steven—he’s seen me like this—’

‘He’ll be shaved, though—that’s what I mean and I’d like you too to spend a little time on yourself.’

He stood up, stroking the heavy stubble on his chin. ‘Maybe I should all right, but it makes the skin too tender. Especially when I’ve got to face the wind.’

She nodded and began to help him dress, bringing heavy socks and a big woollen sweater from the bedroom, wrapping a scarf around his face and forehead. ‘I’ll tell Steven to come early,’ he said,  as he went out.

‘In time for supper. Likely there’ll be chores for me to do, so if I’m not back by six don’t wait.’

From the bedroom window she watched him nearly a mile along the road. The fire had gone down when at last she turned away, and already through the house there was an encroaching chill. A blaze sprang up again when the drafts were opened, but as she went on clearing the table her movements were furtive and constrained. It was the silence weighing upon her—the frozen silence of the bitter fields and sun-chilled sky—lurking outside if alive, relentlessly in wait, mile-deep between her now and John. She listened to it, suddenly tense, motionless. The fire crackled and the clock ticked. Always it was there. ‘I’m a fool,’ she whispered hoarsely, rattling the dishes in defiance, going back to the stove to put in another fire.

‘Warm and safe— I’m a fool. It’s a good chance when he’s away to paint. The day will go quickly. I won’t have time to brood.’

Since November now the paint had been waiting warmer weather. The frost in the walls on a day like this would crack and peel it as it dried, but she needed something to keep her hands  ccupied, something to stave off the gathering cold and loneliness.

‘First of all,’ she said aloud, opening the paint and mixing it with a little turpentine, ‘I must get the house warmer. Fill up the stove and open the oven door so that all the heat comes out. Wad something along the window sills to keep out the drafts. Then I’ll feel brighter. It’s the cold that depresses.’

She moved briskly, performing each little task with careful and exaggerated absorption, binding her thoughts to it, making it a screen between herself and the surrounding snow and silence. But when the stove was filled and the windows sealed it was more difficult again. Above the quiet, steady swishing of her brush against the bedroom door the clock began to tick. Suddenly her movements became precise, deliberate, her posture self-conscious, as if someone had entered the room and were watching her. It was the silence again, aggressive, hovering. The fire spit and crackled at it. Still it was there.

‘I’m a fool,’ she repeated. ‘All farmers’ wives have to stay alone. I mustn’t give in this way. I mustn’t brood. A few hours now and they’ll be here.’

The sound of her voice reassured her. She went on: ‘I’ll get them a good supper—and for coffee tonight after cards bake some of the little cakes with raisins that he likes. . .. Just three of us, so I’ll watch and let John play. It’s better with four, but at least we can talk. That’s all I need—someone to talk to. John never talks, tie’s stronger—he doesn’t understand. But he likes Steven—no matter what the neighbours say. Maybe he’ll have him come again, and some other young people too. It’s what we need, both of us, to help keep young ourselves. . . . And then before we know it we’ll be into March. It’s cold still in March sometimes, but you never mind the same. At least you’re beginning to think about spring.’

She began to think about it now. Thoughts that outstripped her words, that left her alone again with herself and the ever-lurking silence. Eager and hopeful first; then clenched, rebellious, lonely. Windows open, sun and thawing earth again, the urge of growing, living things. Then the days that began in the morning at half-past four and lasted till ten at night; the meals at which John gulped his food and scarcely spoke a word; the brute-tired stupid eyes he turned on her if ever she mentioned town or visiting.

For spring was drudgery again. John never hired a man to help him. He wanted a mortgage-free farm; then a new house and pretty clothes for her. Sometimes, because with the best of crops it was going to take so long to pay off anyway, she wondered whether they mightn’t better let the mortgage wait a little. Before they were worn out, before their best years were gone. It was something of life she wanted, not just a house and furniture; something of John, not pretty clothes when she would be too old to wear them.

But John of course couldn’t understand. To him it seemed only right that she should have the clothes—only right that he, fit for nothing else, should slave away fifteen hours a day to give them to her. There was in his devotion a baffling,  insurmountable humility that made him feel the need of sacrifice. And when his muscles ached, when his feet dragged stolidly with weariness, then it seemed that in some measure at least he was making amends for his big hulking body and simple mind. That by his sacrifice he succeeded only in the extinction of his personality never occurred to him. Year after year their lives went on in the same little groove. He drove his horses in the field; she milked the cows and hoed potatoes.

By dint of his drudgery he saved a few months’ wages, added a few dollars more each fall to his payments on the mortgage; but the only real difference that it all made was to deprive her of his companionship, to make him a little duller, older, uglier than he might otherwise have been. He never saw their lives objectively. To him it was not what he actually accomplished by means of the sacrifice that mattered, but the sacrifice itself, the gesture—something done for her sake.

And she, understanding, kept her silence. In such a gesture, however futile, there was a graciousness not to beshattered lightly.

‘John,’ she would begin sometimes, ‘you’re doing too much. Get a man to help you—just for month—’ but smiling down at her he would answer simply, ‘I don’t mind. Look at the hands on me. They’re made for work.’

While in his voice there would be a stalwart ring to tell her that by her thoughtfulness she had made him only the more resolved to serve her, to prove his devotion and fidelity. They were useless, such thoughts. She knew. It was his very devotion that made them useless, that forbade her to rebel. Yet over and over, sometimes hunched still before their bleakness, sometimes her brush making swift sharp strokes to pace the chafe and rancour that they brought, she persisted in them.

This now, the winter, was their slack season. She could sleep sometimes till eight, and John till seven. They could linger over their meals a little, read, play cards, go visiting the neighbours. It was the time to relax, to indulge and enjoy themselves; but instead, fretful and impatient, they kept on waiting for the spring. They were compelled now, not by labour, but by the spirit of labour. A spirit that pervaded their lives and brought with idleness a sense of guilt.

Sometimes they did sleep late, sometimes they did play cards, but always uneasily, always reproached by the thought of more important things that might be done. When John got up at five to attend to the fire he wanted to stay up and go out to the stable. When he sat down to a meal he hurried his food and pushed his chair away again, from habit, from sheer work-instinct, even though it was only to put more wood in the stove, or go down cellar to cut up beets and turnips for the cows.

And anyway, sometimes she asked herself, why sit trying to talk with a man who never talked? Why talk when there was nothing to talk about but crops and cattle, the weather and the neighbours? The neighbours, too—why go visiting them when still it was the same—crops and cattle, the weather and the other neighbours? Why go to the dances in the schoolhouse to sit among the older women, one of them now, married seven years, or to waltz with the work-bent, tired old farmers to a squeaky fiddle tune? Once she had danced with Steven six or seven times in the evening, and they had talked about it for as many months. It was easier to stay at home.

John never danced or enjoyed himself. He was always uncomfortable in his good suit and shoes. He didn’t like shaving in the cold weather oftener than once or twice a week. It was easier to stay at home, to stand at the window staring out across the bitter fields, to count the days and look forward to another spring.

But now, alone with herself in the winter silence, she saw the spring for what it really was. This spring —next spring— all the springs and summers still to come. While they grew old, while their bodies warped, while their minds kept shrivelling dry and empty like their lives.

‘I mustn’t,’ she said aloud again. ‘I married him—and he’s a good man. I mustn’t keep on this way. It will be noon before long, and then time to think about supper. .. . Maybe he’ll come early—
and as soon as John is finished at the stable we can all play cards.’

It was getting cold again, and she left her painting to put in more wood. But this time the warmth spread slowly. She pushed a mat up to the outside door, and went back to the window to pat down the woollen shirt that was wadded along the sill. Then she paced a few times round the room, then poked the fire and rattled the stove lids, then paced again. The fire crackled, the clock ticked.

The silence now seemed more intense than ever, seemed to have reached a pitch where it faintly moaned. She began to pace on tiptoe, listening, her shoulders drawn together, not realizing for a while that it was the wind she heard, thin-strained and whimpering through the eaves. Then she wheeled to the window, and with quick short breaths thawed the frost to see again. The glitter was gone.

Across the drifts sped swift and snakelike little tongues of snow. She could not follow them, where they sprang from, or where they disappeared. It was as if all across the yard the snow were shivering awake—roused by the warnings of the wind to hold itself in readiness for the impending storm. The sky had become a sombre, whitish grey. It, too, as if in readiness, had shifted and lay close to earth. Before her as she watched a mane of powdery snow reared up breasthigh against the darker background of the stable, tossed for a moment angrily, and then subsided again as if whipped down to obedience and restraint. But another followed, more reckless and impatient than the first.

Another reeled and dashed itself against the window where she watched. Then ominously for a while there were only the angry little snakes of snow. The wind rose, creaking the troughs that were wired beneath the eaves. In the distance, sky and prairie now were merged into one another linelessly. All round her it was gathering; already in its press and whimpering there strummed a boding of eventual fury. Again she saw a mane of snow spring up, so dense and high this time that all the sheds and stables were obscured. Then others followed, whirling fiercely out of hand; and, when at last they cleared, the stables seemed in dimmer outline than before. It was the snow beginning, long lancet shafts of it, straight from the north, borne almost level by the straining wind.

‘He’ll be there soon,’ she whispered, ‘and coming home it will be in his back. He’ll leave again right away. He saw the double wheel— he knows the kind of storm there’ll be.’

She went back to her painting. For a while it was easier, all her thoughts half-anxious ones of John in the blizzard, struggling his way across the hills; but petulantly again she soon began, ‘I knew we were going to have a storm—I told him so—but it doesn’t matter what I say. Big stubborn fool—he goes his own way anyway. It doesn’t matter what becomes of me. In a storm like this he’ll never get home, He won’t even try. And while he sits keeping his father company I can look after his stable for him, go ploughing through snowdrifts up to my knees— nearly frozen—’

Not that she meant or believed her words. It was just an effort to convince herself that she did have a grievance, to justify her rebellious thoughts, to prove John responsible for her unhappiness. She was young still, eager for excitement and distractions; and John’s steadfastness rebuked her vanity, made her complaints seem weak and trivial. Fretfully she went on, ‘If he’d listen to me sometimes and not be so stubborn we wouldn’t be living still in a house like this. Seven years in two rooms—seven years and never a new stick of furniture. . . . There—as if another coat of paint could make it different anyway.’

She cleaned her brush, filled up the stove again, and went back to the window. There was a void white moment that she thought must be frost formed on the window pane; then, like a fitful shadow through the whirling snow, she recognized the stable roof. It was incredible. The sudden, maniac raging of the storm struck from her face all its pettishness. Her eyes glazed with fear a little; her lips blanched.

‘If he starts for home now,’ she whispered silently—

‘But he won’t—he knows I’m safe—he knows Steven’s coming. Across the hills he would never dare.’

She turned to the stove, holding out her hands to the warmth. Around her now there seemed a constant sway and tremor, as if the air were vibrating with the violent shudderings of the walls. She stood quite still, listening. Sometimes the wind struck with sharp, savage blows. Sometimes it bore down in a sustained, minute-long blast, silent with effort and intensity; then with a foiled shriek of threat wheeled away to gather and assault again. Always the eave-troughs creaked and sawed. She started towards the window again, then detecting the morbid trend of her thoughts, prepared fresh coffee and forced herself to drink a few mouthfuls.

‘He would never dare,’ she whispered again. ‘He wouldn’t leave the old man anyway in such a storm. Safe in here—there’s nothing for me to keep worrying about. It’s after one already. I’ll do my baking now, and then it will be time to get supper ready for Steven.’

Soon, however, she began to doubt whether Steven would come. In such a storm even a mile was enough to make a man hesitate. Especially Steven, who, for all his attractive qualities, was hardly the one to face a blizzard for the sake of someone else’s chores. He had a stable of his own to look after anyway. It would be only natural for him to think that when the storm rose John had turned again for home. Another man would have—would have put his wife first.

But she felt little dread or uneasiness at the prospect of spending the night alone. It was the first time she had been left like this on her own resources, and her reaction, now that she could face and appraise her situation calmly, was gradually to feel it a kind of adventure and responsibility. It stimulated her. Before nightfall she must go to the stable and feed everything. Wrap up in some of John’s clothes— take a ball of string in her hand, one end tied to the door, so that no matter how blinding the storm she could at least find her way back to the house. She had heard of people
having to do that. It appealed to her now because suddenly it made life dramatic. She had not felt the storm yet, only watched it for a minute through the window.

It took nearly an hour to find enough string, to choose the right socks and sweaters. Long before it was time to start out she tried on John’s clothes, changing and rechanging, striding around the room to make sure there would be play enough for pitching hay and struggling over snowdrifts; then she took them off again, and for a while busied herself baking the little cakes with raisins that he liked.

Night came early. Just for a moment on the doorstep she shrank back, uncertain. The slow dimming of the light clutched her with an illogical sense of abandonment. It was like the covert withdrawal of an ally, leaving the alien miles unleashed and unrestrained. Watching the hurricane of writhing snow rage past the little house she forced herself, ‘They’ll never stand the night unless I get them fed. It’s nearly dark already, and I’ve work to last an hour.’

Timidly, unwinding a little of the string, she crept out from the shelter of the doorway. A gust of wind spun her forward a few yards, then plunged her headlong against a drift that in the dense white whirl lay invisible across her path. For nearly a minute she huddled still, breathless and dazed. The snow was in her mouth and nostrils, inside her scarf and up her sleeves. As she tried to straighten a smothering scud flung itself against her face, cutting off her breath a second time. The wind struck from all sides, blustering and furious. It was as if the storm had discovered her, as if all its forces were concentrated upon her extinction.

Seized with panic suddenly she threshed out a moment with her arms then stumbled back and sprawled her length across the drift. But this time she regained her feet quickly, roused by the whip and batter of the storm to retaliative anger. For a moment her impulse was to face the wind and strike back blow for blow; then, as suddenly as it had come, her frantic strength gave way to limpness and exhaustion. Suddenly, a comprehension so clear and terrifying that it struck all thoughts of the stable from her mind, she realized in such a storm her puny insignificance.

And the realization gave her new strength, stilled this time to a desperate persistence. Just for a moment the wind held her, numb and swaying in its vise; then slowly, buckled far forward, she groped her way again towards the house. Inside, leaning against the door, she stood tense and still a while. It was almost dark now. The top of the stove glowed a deep, dull red. Heedless of the storm, self-absorbed and self-satisfied, the clock ticked on like a glib little idiot.

‘He shouldn’t have gone,’ she whispered silently. ‘He saw the double wheel—he knew. He shouldn’t have left me here alone.’

For so fierce now, so insane and dominant did the blizzard seem, that she could not credit the safety of the house. The warmth and lull around her was not real yet, not to be relied upon. She was still at the mercy of the storm. Only her body pressing hard like this against the door was staving it off. She didn’t dare move. She didn’t dare ease the ache and strain. ‘He shouldn’t have gone,’ she repeated, thinking of the stable again, reproached by her helplessness.

‘They’ll freeze in their stalls—and I can’t reach them. He’ll say it’s all my fault. He won’t believe I tried.’

Then Steven came. Quickly, startled to quietness and control, she let him in and lit the lamp. He stared at her a moment, then flinging off his cap crossed to where she stood by the table and seized, her arms. ‘You’re so white— what’s wrong? Look at me—’ It was like him in such little situations to be masterful.

‘You should have known better than to go out on a day like this. For a while I thought I wasn’t going to make it here myself—’

‘I was afraid you wouldn’t come—John left early, and there was the stable—’

But the storm had unnerved her, and suddenly at the assurance of his touch and voice the fear that had been gripping her gave way to-an hysteria of relief. Scarcely aware of herself she seized his arm and sobbed against it. He remained still moment, un-yielding, then slipped his other arm around her shoulder. It was comforting and she relaxed against it, hushed by a sudden sense of lull and safety. Her shoulders trembled with the easing of the strain, then fell limp and still.

‘You’re shivering,’—he drew her gently towards the stove. ‘There’s nothing to be afraid of now, though. I’m going to do the chores for you.’

It was a quiet, sympathetic voice, yet with an undertone of insolence, a kind of mockery even, that made her draw away quickly and busy herself putting in a fire. With his lips drawn in a little smile he watched her till she looked at him again. The smile top was insolent, but at the same time companionable; Steven’s smile, and therefore difficult to reprove. It lit up his lean, still-boyish face with a peculiar kind of arrogance: features and smile that were different from John’s, from other men’s—wilful and derisive, yet naively so—as if it were less the difference itself he was conscious of, than the long-accustomed privilege that thereby fell his due.

He was erect, tall, square-shouldered. His hair was dark and trim, his young lips curved soft and full. While John, set, heavy-jowled, and stooped. He always stood be-fore her helpless, a kind of humility and wonderment in his attitude. And Steven now smiled on her appraisingly with the worldly wise assurance of one for whom a woman holds neither mystery nor illusion.

‘It was good of you to come, Steven,’ she responded, the words running into a sudden, empty laugh. ‘Such a storm to face—I suppose I should feel flattered.’

For his presumption, his misunderstanding of what had been only a momentary weakness, instead of angering quickened her, roused from latency and long disuse all the instincts and resources of her femininity. She felt eager, challenged. Something was at hand that hitherto had always eluded her, even in the early days with John, something vital, beckoning, meaningful. She didn’t understand, but she knew. The texture of the moment was satisfyingly dreamlike: an incredibility perceived as such, yet acquiesced in.

She was John’s wife—she knew—but also she knew that Steven standing here was different from John. There was no thought or motive, no understanding of herself as the knowledge persisted. Wary and poised round a sudden little core of blind excitement she evaded him, ‘But it’s nearly dark—hadn’t you better hurry if you’re going to do the chores? Don’t trouble—I can get them off myself—’

An hour later when he returned from the stable she was in another dress, hair rearranged, a little flush of colour in her face. Pouring warm water for him from the kettle into the basin she said evenly, ‘By the time you’re washed supper will be ready. John said we weren’t to wait for him.’

He looked at her a moment, ‘But in a storm like this you’re not expecting John?’

‘Of course.’ As she spoke she could feel the colour deepening in her face. ‘We’re going to play cards. He was the one that suggested it.’

He went on washing, and then as they took their places at the table, resumed, ‘So John’s coming. When are you expecting him?’

‘He said it might be seven o’clock—or a little later.’ Conversation with Steven at other times ha always been brisk and natural hut now suddenly she found it strained. ‘He may have work to do for his father. That’s what he said when he left. Why do you ask, Steven?’

‘I was just wondering—it’s a rough night.’

‘He always comes. There couldn’t be a storm bad enough. It’s easier to do the chores in daylight, and I knew he’d be tired—that’s why I started out for the stable.’

She glanced up again and he was smiling at her. The same insolence, the same little twist of mockery and appraisal. It made her flinch suddenly, and ask herself why she was pretending to expect why there should be this instinct of defence to force her. This time, instead of poise and excitement, it brought a reminder that she had changed her dress and rearranged her hair. It crushed in a sudden silence, through which she heard the whistling wind again, and the creaking saw of the eaves.

Neither spoke now. There was something strange, almost terrifying, about this Steven and his quiet, unrelenting smile; but strangest of all was the familiarity: the Steven she had never seen or encountered, and yet had always known, always expected, always waited for. It was less Steven himself that she felt than his inevitability. Just as she had felt the snow, the silence and the storm. She kept her eyes lowered, on the window past his shoulder, on the stove, but his smile now seemed to exist apart from him, to merge and hover with the silence.

She clinked a cup— listened to the whistle of the storm—always it was there. He began to speak, but her mind missed the meaning of his words. Swiftly she was making comparisons again; his face so different to John’s, so handsome and young and clean-shaven. Swiftly, helplessly, feeling the imperceptible and relentless ascendancy that thereby he was gaining over her, sensing sudden menace in this new, more vital life, even as she felt drawn towards it.

The lamp between them flickered as an onslaught of the storm sent shudderings through the room. She rose to build up the fire again and he followed her. For a long time they stood close to the stove, their arms almost touching. Once as the blizzard creaked the house she spun around sharply, fancying it was John at the door; but quietly he intercepted her.

‘Not tonight—you might as well make up your mind to it. Across the hills in a storm like this—it would be suicide to try.’

Her lips trembled suddenly in an effort to answer, to parry the certainty in his voice, then set thin and bloodless. She was afraid now. Afraid of his face so different from John’s—of his smile, of her own helplessness to rebuke it. Afraid of the storm, isolating her here alone with him in its impenetrable fastness. They tried to play cards, but she kept starting up at every creak and shiver of the walls.

‘It’s too rough a night,’ he repeated. ‘Even for John. Just relax a few minutes—stop worrying and pay a little attention to me.’

But in his tone there was a contradiction to his words. For it implied that she was not worrying—that her only concern was lest it really might be John at the door. And the implication persisted. He filled up the stove for her, shuffled the cards—won—shuffled— still it was there.

She tried to respond to his conversation, to think of the game, but helplessly into her cards instead she began to ask, Was he right? Was that why he smiled? Why he seemed to wait, expectant and assured? The clock ticked, the fire crackled. Always it was there. Furtively for a moment she watched him as he deliberated over his hand. John, even in the days before they were married, had never looked like that. Only this morning she had asked him to shave. Because Steven was coming—because she had been afraid to see them side by side—because deep within herself she had known even then. The same knowledge, furtive and forbidden, that was flaunted now in Steven’s smile.

‘You look cold,’ he said at last, dropping his cards and rising from the table. ‘We’re not playing anyway. Come over to the stove for few minutes and get warm.’

‘But first I think we’ll hang blankets over the door When there’s a blizzard like this we always do.’ It seemed that in sane, commonplace activity there might be release, a moment or two in which to recover herself.

‘John has nails in to put them on. They keep out a little of the draft.’

He stood on a chair for her, and hung the blankets that she carried from the bedroom. Then for a moment they stood silent, watching the blankets sway and tremble before the blade of wind that spurted around the jamb.

‘I forgot,’ she said at last, ‘that I painted the bedroom door. At the top there, see—I’ve smeared the blankets coming through.’

He glanced at her curiously, and went back to the stove. She followed him, trying to imagine the hills in such a storm, wondering whether John would come.

‘A man couldn’t live in it,’ suddenly he answered her thoughts, lowering the oven door and drawing up their chairs one on each side of it.

‘He knows you’re safe. It isn’t likely that he’d leave his father, anyway.’

‘The wind will be in his back,’ she persisted. ‘The winter before we were married—all the blizzards that we had that year—and he never missed—’

‘Blizzards like this one? Up in the hills he wouldn’t be able to keep his direction for a hundred yards. Listen to it a minute and ask yourself.’

His voice seemed softer, kindlier now. She met his smile a moment, its assured little twist of appraisal, then for a long time sat silent, tense, careful again to avoid his eyes.

Everything now seemed to depend on this. It was the same as a few hours ago when she braced the door against the storm. He was watching her, smiling. She dared not move, unclench her hands, or raise her eyes. The flames crackled, the clock ticked. The storm wrenched the walls as if to make them buckle in. So rigid and desperate were all her muscles set, withstanding, that the room around her seemed to swim and reel. So rigid and strained that for relief at last, despite herself, she raised her head and met his eyes again.

Intending that it should be for only an instant, just to breathe again, to ease the tension that had grown unbearable— but in his smile now, instead of the insolent appraisal that she feared, there seemed a kind of warmth and sympathy. An understanding that quickened and encouraged her—that made her wonder why but a moment ago she had been afraid. It was as if the storm had lulled, as if she had suddenly found calm and shelter.

Or perhaps, the thought seized her, perhaps instead of his smile it was she that had changed. She who, in the long, wind-creaked silence, had emerged from the increment of codes and loyalties to her real, unfettered self. She who now felt suddenly an air of appraisal as nothing more than an understanding of the unfulfilled woman that until this moment had lain within her brooding and unadmitted, reproved out of consciousness by the insistence of an outgrown, routine fidelity.

For there had always been Steven. She understood now. Seven years—almost as long as John—ever since the night they first danced together. The lamp was burning dry, and through the dimming light, isolated in the fastness of silence and storm, they watched each other. Her face was white and struggling still. His was handsome, clean-shaven, young. Her eyes were fanatic,
believing desperately fixed, upon him as it exclude all else, as if to find justification. His were cool, bland, a little with expectancy. The light kept dimming gathering the shadows round them, hushed, conspiratorial. He was smiling still. Her hands again were clenched up white and hard.

‘But he always came,’ she persisted. ‘The wildest, coldest nights—even such a night as this. There was never a storm—’

‘Never a storm like this one.’ There was a quietness in his smile now, a kind of simplicity almost, as if to reassure her.

‘You were out in it yourself for a few minutes. He would have five miles, across the hills. … I’d think twice myself, on such a night, before risking even one.’

Long after he was asleep she lay listening to the storm. As a check on the draft up the chimney they had left one of the stovelids partly off, and through the open bedroom door she could see the flickerings of flame and shadow on the kitchen wall. They leaped and sank fantastically. The longer she watched the more alive they seemed to be. There was one great shadow that struggled towards her threateningly, massive and black and engulfing all the room. Again and again it advanced, about to spring, but each time a little whip of light subdued it to its place among the others on the wall. Yet though it never reached her still she cowered, feeling that gathered there was all the frozen wilderness, its heart of terror and invincibility.

Then she dozed a while, and the shadow was John. Interminably he advanced. The whips of light still flicked and coiled, but now suddenly they were the swift little snakes that this afternoon she had watched twist and shiver across the snow. And they too were advancing. They writhed and vanished and came again. She lay still, paralysed. He was over her now, so close that she could have touched him. Already it seemed that a deadly tightening hand was on her throat. She tried to scream but her lips were locked. Steven beside her slept on heedlessly.

Until suddenly as she lay staring up at him a gleam of light revealed his face. And in it was not a trace of threat or anger—only calm, and stonelike hopelessness. That was like John. He began to withdraw, and frantically she tried to call him back.

‘It isn’t true— not really true— listen, John—’ but the words clung frozen to her lips. Already there was only the shriek of wind again, the sawing eaves, the leap and twist of shadow on the wall. She sat up, startled now and awake. And so real had he seemed there, standing close to her, so vivid the sudden age and sorrow in his face, that at first she could not make herself understand she had been only dreaming. Against the conviction of his presence in the room it was necessary to insist over and over that he must still be with his father on the other side of the hills. Watching the shadows she had fallen asleep. It was only her mind, her imagination, distorted to a nightmare by the illogical and unadmitted dread of his return.

But he wouldn’t come. Steven was right. In such a storm he would never try. They were safe, alone. No one would ever know. It was only fear, morbid and irrational; only the sense of guilt that even her new-found and challenged womanhood could not entirely quell. She knew now. She had not let herself understand or acknowledge it as guilt before, but gradually through the windtorn silence of the night his face compelled her. The face that had watched her from the darkness with its stone like sorrow—the face that was really John—John more than his features of mere flesh and bone could ever be.

She wept silently. The fitful gleam of light began to sink. On the ceiling and wall at last there was only a faint dull flickering glow. The little house shuddered and quailed, and a chill crept in again. Without wakening Steven she slipped out to build up the fire. It was burned to a few spent embers now, and the wood she put on seemed a long time catching light. The wind swirled through the blankets they had hung around the door, and struck her flesh like laps of molten ice.

Then hollow and moaning it roared up the chimney again, as if against its will drawn back to serve still longer with the onrush of the storm. For a long time she crouched over the stove, listening. Earlier in the evening, with the lamp lit and the fire crackling, the house had seemed a stand against the wilderness, against its frozen, blizzard-breathed implacability, a refuge of feeble walls wherein persisted the elements of human meaning and survival. Now, in the cold, creaking darkness, it was strangely extinct, looted by the storm and abandoned again. She lifted the stove lid and fanned the embers till at last a swift little tongue of flame began to lick around the wood. Then she replaced the lid, extended her hands, and as if frozen in that attitude stood waiting.
It was not long now.

After a few minutes she closed the drafts, and as the flames whirled back upon each other, beating against the top of the stove and sending out flickers of light again, a warmth surged up to relax her stiffened limbs. But shivering and numb it had been easier. The bodily well-being that the warmth induced gave play again to an ever more insistent mental suffering. She remembered the shadow that was John. She saw him bent towards her, then retreating, his features pale and overcast with unaccusing grief. She re-lived their seven years together and, in retrospect, found them to be years of worth and dignity. Until crushed by it all at last, seized by a sudden need to suffer and atone, she crossed to where the draft was bitter, and for a long time stood unflinching on the icy floor.

The storm was close here. Even through the blankets she could feel a sift of snow against her face. The eaves sawed, the walls creaked. Above it all, like a wolf in howling flight, the wind shrilled lone and desolate. And yet, suddenly she asked herself, hadn’t there been other storms, other blizzards? And through the worst of them hadn’t he always reached her?

Clutched by the thought she stood rooted a minute. It was hard now to understand how she could have so deceived herself—how a moment of passion could have quieted within her not only conscience, but reason and discretion too. John always came. There could never be a storm to stop him. He was strong, inured to the cold. He had crossed the hills since his boyhood, knew every creek-bed and gully. It was madness to go on like this—to wait. While there was still time she must waken Steven, and hurry him away.

But in the bedroom again, standing at Steven’s side, she hesitated. In his detachment from it all, in his quiet, even breathing, there was such sanity, such realism. For him nothing had happened; nothing would. If she wakened him he would only laugh and tell her to listen to the storm. Already it was long past midnight; either John had lost his way or not set out at all. And she knew that in his devotion there was nothing foolhardy. He would never risk a storm beyond his endurance, never permit himself a sacrifice likely to endanger her lot or future.

They were both safe. No one would ever know. She must control herself—be sane like Steven. For comfort she let her hand rest a while on Steven’s shoulder. It would be easier were he awake now, with her, sharing her guilt; but gradually as she watched his handsome face in the glimmering light she came to understand that for him no guilt existed. Just as there had been no passion, no conflict. Nothing but the sane appraisal of their situation, nothing but the expectant little smile, and the arrogance of features that were different from John’s.

She winced deeply, remembering how she had fixed her eyes on those features, how she had tried to believe that so handsome and young, so different from John’s, they must in themselves be her justification. In the flickering light they were still young, still handsome. No longer her justification—she knew now—John was the man—but wistfully still, wondering sharply at their power and tyranny, she touched them a moment with her fingertips again.

She could not blame him. There had been no passion, no guilt; therefore there could be no responsibility. Suddenly looking down at him as he slept, half-smiling still, his lips relaxed in the conscienceless complacency of his achievement, she understood that thus he was revealed in his entirety—all there ever was or ever could be. John was the man. With him lay all the future. For tonight, slowly and contritely through the day and years to come, she would tryto make amends.

Then she stole back to the kitchen, and without thought, impelled by overwhelming need again, returned to the door where the draft was bitter still. Gradually towards morning the storm began to spend itself. Its terror blast became a feeble, worn-out moan. The leap of light and shadow sank, and a chill crept in again. Always the eaves creaked, tortured with wordless prophecy. Heedless of it all the clock ticked on in idiot content.

They found him the next day, less than a mile from home. Drifting with the storm he had run against his own pasture fence and overcome had frozen there, erect still, both hands clasping fast the wire.

‘He was south of here,’ they said wonderingly when she told them how he had come across the hills.

‘Straight south—you’d wonder how he could have missed the buildings. It was the wind last night, coming every way at once. He shouldn’t have tried. There was a double wheel around the moon.’

She looked past them a moment, then as if to herself said simply, ‘If you knew him, though— John would try.’

It was later, when they had left her a while to be alone with him, that she knelt and touched his hand. Her eyes dimmed, still it was such a strong and patient hand; then, transfixed, they suddenly grew wide and clear. On the palm, white even against its frozen whiteness, was a little smear of paint.

Irony in The Painted Door

The irony of the story the painted door by Sinclair Ross is that Ann is always worried that her husband is an infidel. In the end, when Ann finds smeared paint on the dead John’s hand, she realizes that he had actually managed to struggle and get back home against all odds so that she would not worry. However  on discovering that the love of his life, his wife Ann, was cheating on him by sleeping with his best friend Steven, these actions ironically lead to John’s death. She is the only one that knows the truth and will have to live with this for the rest of her life. The second irony in the story is that John had sent his friend Steven over to keep Ann company so that she would not feel alone. This is ironic because John set up Ann to cheat on him with his close friend although he did it unintentionally. After being unfaithful to John, Ann has an important realization about the difference between John and Steven by which time the damage had already been done.

Questions and Answers – The Painted Door – Set 1

  1. What is the main idea of The Painted Door?
    • The theme of the short story “The Painted Door” by Sinclair Ross is that isolation and loneliness can lead to desperation and bad choices such as betrayal. The story delves into the consequences of Ann’s actions because of her isolation and poor mental state and her loveless marriage.
  2. What is The Painted Door short story about?
    • The short story, The Painted Door,  focuses on a woman who commits adultery due to her husband’s absence and neglect of emotions.
  3. What does the door symbolize in The Painted Door?
    • The painted door of the story’s title represents Ann’s desire for both control and excitement in her life. It also serves as a setting for the twist towards the end of the story.
  4. What happened to John in The Painted Door?
    • Ann’s husband, John is unfailingly loyal and self-sacrificing, and sees only the best in people. When he returns home late at night to find his wife in bed with their friend Steven, he chooses to quietly kill himself by walking back out into the blizzard rather than confront them.
  5. Who is to blame for John’s death in The Painted Door?
    • Interestingly while Ann infidelity is the fault of the broken marriage, it did not kill John. John’s own lack of control, after discovering his wife’s transgression, is the only true reason for his death.
  6. Why is Ann unhappy in The Painted Door?
    • Although she loves her husband and appreciates how hard he works, she dislikes the repetitive, isolated nature of life as a farmer’s wife.

Questions and Answers – The Painted Door – Set 2

  1. What does the ending of The Painted Door mean?
    • The smudge of paint on John’s hand shows that he returned home safely, but then saw Ann and Steven asleep in bed and chose to walk back out into the snow to die. He sacrificed his own life in despair, but also so that he would never have to confront Ann and be anything other than loyal and supportive to her.
  2. What happened at the end of The Painted Door?
    • It’s the same paint she used on the door earlier that evening, suggesting that John actually made it home safely, but when he found the two in bed together, he walked back into the snow to die.
  3. What is the irony in The Painted Door?
    • The irony of the ending is revealed when Ann finds evidence of smeared paint on the dead John’s hand. Ann tried to overcome her loneliness by sleeping with Steven however these actions ironically lead to John’s death. She is the only one that knows the truth and will have to live with this for the rest of her life. The second irony in the story is that John had sent Steven over to keep Ann company. This is ironic because John gave Ann the opportunity to cheat on him with his close friend: which is what happened.
  4. What does sacrifice symbolize in The Painted Door?
    • For John, sacrifice is the ultimate expression of love and loyalty. Ann understands the necessity of some sacrifice, but she sees it as a necessary evil and something which makes it more difficult to remain loyal to her husband.
  5. Why does Ann want John to shave in The Painted Door?
    • Ann’s attempts to get John to shave implies that Ann wants John to look good for Steven because she cares about how Steven thinks about John, and ultimately her.
  6. What does the double wheel around the moon symbolize in The Painted Door?
    • The night before the story takes place, a “double wheel” appeared around the moon. This double wheel (which is usually caused by ice crystals high in the atmosphere) is taken by all of the characters to represent a coming storm.

Questions and Answers – The Painted Door – Set 3

  1. What is the foreshadowing in The Painted Door?
    • Ann looks at the door and Steven says, “Not tonight, you might as well make up your mind.” This foreshadows them sleeping together, putting a double meaning to what she has to make up her mind about. Steven tells Ann, “Across the hills in a storm like this- it would be suicide to try.” This foreshadows John’s death.
  2. What does the paint on John’s hand imply in The Painted Door?
    • When first she, then John smudges the paint, it not only provides a crucial plot point to the story as the paint from the door on John’s hand shows that he did come home and see Ann in bed with Steven.
  3. What is the conflict in The Painted Door?
    • The major conflicts throughout the story are man versus self and, man versus environment. Ann struggles to cope with her inner thoughts and faces difficulties being the wife of a farmer. She is left in isolation, which condemns her to seek emotional support from another male figure.
  4. What is the mood and tone of The Painted Door?
    • The mood of the story is one of isolation and despair and the tone is one of hopelessness and loneliness.
  5. Why is the setting important in The Painted Door?
    • Without the setting of despair and loneliness, the purpose of the story does not have a framework to stand on. Without the storm in the story, no events may have even happened to the main characters. Without Ann’s insecurities, she has no reason to cheat. The setting was also for the sense of despair that occurred later on in the story, finding that her husband was dead in the snow.

Questions and Answers – The Painted Door – Set 4

  1. What does Steven symbolize in The Painted Door?
    • Steven is presented as a reflection and a object of Ann’s desires which is always in contrast to John. He is presented as everything that she wants in a man. While Steven never directly states that he wants to sleep with Ann, he expresses no anxiety or guilt around their transgression.
  2. What is the feminist angle in The Painted Door?
    • In “The Painted Door” by Sinclair Ross it is evident through the Feminist angle that Ann decided to cheat on her husband in an attempt to escape her dull lifestyle. Her actions were caused by her unhappy marriage, her sense of self-importance and her overdependence on men.
  3. What factors drive Ann to her decision to commit adultery?
    • The factors that drive Ann to commit adultery are not being content with John, not noticing John’s efforts to make her happy, not appreciating John in general. After being unfaithful to John, Ann has an important realization about the difference between John and Steven by which time the damage had already been done.

The Painted Door by Sinclair Ross – Analysis

“The Painted Door” by Sinclair Ross unfolds against the backdrop of a desolate prairie farm during a harsh winter day, setting the stage for a narrative that explores themes of isolation, deception, and the consequences of personal choices on relationships.

Ann, the protagonist, is portrayed as a woman trapped in the monotony of rural life, exacerbated by her husband John’s frequent absences due to work. The physical and emotional distance between Ann and John creates a profound sense of loneliness, prompting Ann’s decision to spend a day with their neighbor, Steven. The story delves into the breakdown of communication between the married couple, emphasizing their inability to express true feelings and desires, contributing to the growing rift in their relationship.

As the narrative unfolds, Ann’s seemingly innocuous decision takes a darker turn. The prairie storm, both literal and metaphorical, intensifies, mirroring the emotional turmoil within the characters. Ann’s pursuit of companionship and excitement with Steven becomes a symbol of betrayal, revealing the fragility of trust within the marriage.

The painted door, initially representing Ann’s attempt to add color to her life, becomes ironic as it conceals the deception and discontent lurking behind it. The story reaches its climax when John, surviving the treacherous journey back home, discovers Ann and Steven together. The revelation shatters the illusion of trust and exposes the profound consequences of Ann’s choices.

Throughout the narrative, Ross employs symbolism, such as the painted door and the storm, to convey deeper meanings. The painted door symbolizes both Ann’s desire to bring vibrancy to her life and the deceptive facade masking the underlying discontent. The storm, with its harsh weather, serves as a reflection of the emotional turmoil and consequences unleashed by Ann’s actions.

The story’s irony lies in the contrast between Ann’s initial expectations of a day filled with excitement and companionship and the devastating reality of the consequences that follow. The painted door, intended to add color to Ann’s life, becomes a stark reminder of the deception and betrayal that occurred behind it.

“The Painted Door” is a poignant exploration of the complexities within human relationships, emphasizing the impact of isolation, the breakdown of communication, and the enduring consequences of choices made in moments of vulnerability.

The Painted Door by Sinclair Ross – Irony

“Irony” is a central element in Sinclair Ross’s short story, “The Painted Door,” contributing to the depth and impact of the narrative. Several instances of irony can be identified in the story:

  1. The Painted Door Itself:
    • Expectation vs. Reality: The painted door, initially introduced as Ann’s attempt to bring vibrancy and color to her monotonous life, takes on a deeper, ironic meaning as the story progresses. While Ann hopes for a more colorful existence, the painted door becomes a symbol of the deceptive facade concealing the emotional turmoil and betrayal occurring within the confines of the farmhouse. The irony lies in the contrast between Ann’s initial intentions and the unforeseen consequences of her actions.
  2. The Storm:
    • Literal and Metaphorical Storm: The storm outside the farmhouse mirrors the emotional storm brewing within the characters. The harsh weather serves as both a literal obstacle for John’s return and a metaphorical representation of the intensifying conflict between Ann and John. The irony lies in the dual nature of the storm, symbolizing the external and internal challenges faced by the characters simultaneously.
  3. Ann’s Pursuit of Excitement:
    • Isolation Leading to Betrayal: Ann’s decision to spend time with Steven is driven by her desire for companionship and excitement, revealing the irony in her pursuit. The very act intended to alleviate her loneliness leads to a betrayal of John’s trust and the unraveling of their marriage. The irony here lies in Ann’s attempt to escape isolation, only to find herself in a situation that deepens her emotional and relational isolation.
  4. The Symbolism of Color:
    • Deception Behind Vibrancy: Ann’s desire to add color to her life through the painted door becomes an ironic symbol. While color typically represents vibrancy and positivity, the story uses it to mask the darker reality of deception and betrayal. The painted door, instead of bringing joy, becomes a conduit for the emotional turbulence and consequences of Ann’s choices.
  5. John’s Dedication to Work:
    • Absence Leading to Crisis: John’s dedication to his work on the farm, while driven by a desire to provide for his family, ironically contributes to the breakdown of his relationship with Ann. His frequent absences create an emotional distance that leaves Ann vulnerable to the companionship offered by Steven. The irony lies in the unintended consequences of John’s commitment to his responsibilities.
  6. Ann’s Initial Expectations:
    • Loneliness Despite Marriage: Ann’s loneliness and desire for excitement, despite being married, highlight the irony in the expectation that marriage should fulfill one’s emotional needs. The story underscores the complexity of human relationships and the irony that, even within the institution of marriage, individuals may grapple with profound feelings of isolation and unmet needs.

The Painted Door by Sinclair Ross – Themes

“The Painted Door” by Sinclair Ross explores various themes that delve into the complexities of human relationships, the impact of isolation, and the consequences of personal choices. Here are some central themes in the story:

  1. Isolation and Loneliness:
    • The prairie setting of the story intensifies the sense of isolation experienced by the characters. Ann is frequently left alone on the farm due to John’s dedication to his work. This physical isolation contributes to Ann’s emotional loneliness, highlighting the theme of isolation within the context of marriage.
  2. Deception and Betrayal:
    • A significant theme in the story is deception and betrayal. Ann’s decision to spend time with Steven, a neighbor, during John’s absence leads to an emotional affair that eventually culminates in a kiss. The deception is not only between Ann and John but also within Ann herself as she grapples with conflicting emotions. The consequences of this betrayal shape the trajectory of the narrative.
  3. Communication Breakdown:
    • The breakdown of communication between Ann and John is a prevalent theme. The couple struggles to express their true feelings and desires, leading to a growing emotional distance. The lack of effective communication becomes a catalyst for the events that unfold, as neither character fully understands the emotional turmoil within the other.
  4. Consequences of Personal Choices:
    • The story underscores the theme of personal responsibility and the enduring consequences of individual choices. Ann’s decision to spend time with Steven has profound implications for her marriage and her own sense of self. The narrative delves into the idea that personal choices, made in moments of vulnerability, can have far-reaching effects on one’s life and relationships.
  5. Expectations vs. Reality:
    • The painted door becomes a symbol of the theme of expectations versus reality. Ann initially paints the door with the hope of bringing color and vibrancy into her life, a symbol of her unfulfilled desires. However, the reality behind the painted door turns out to be far darker, representing the unforeseen consequences of her actions and the emotional turmoil within the farmhouse.
  6. Winter and Harsh Environment:
    • The harsh winter setting serves as both a literal and metaphorical backdrop to the themes in the story. The physical storm becomes a metaphor for the emotional storm within the characters. The unforgiving environment amplifies the challenges faced by the characters, contributing to the overall theme of the harsh realities of life.
  7. Fragmentation of Marriage:
    • The story explores the fragility of marital bonds and the potential for relationships to unravel under the strain of isolation and unmet needs. The emotional distance between Ann and John, exacerbated by their inability to communicate effectively, results in the fragmentation of their marriage.
  8. Regret and Loss:
    • As the story unfolds, a sense of regret permeates Ann’s character. The consequences of her choices become apparent, and the theme of loss—whether it be the loss of trust, the loss of emotional connection, or the potential loss of the marriage itself—casts a shadow over the narrative.

The Painted Door by Sinclair Ross – Character Analysis

“The Lamp at Noon” by Sinclair Ross features two main characters, Ellen and Paul, whose lives are shaped by the harsh prairie environment and the challenges of rural life during the Great Depression. Let’s explore character sketches for both Ellen and Paul:

  1. Ellen:
    • Yearning for Connection: Ellen is a complex character whose primary characteristic is her intense yearning for connection and emotional fulfillment. Trapped in the isolation of the prairie farm, she longs for a life beyond the barren landscape and the constant wind that haunts their existence. Her desires are not solely for material comfort but for a deeper emotional bond that transcends the harsh realities of their environment.
    • Emotional Turmoil: Throughout the story, Ellen experiences profound emotional turmoil. Her desperation is palpable as she pleads with Paul to light the lamp, a symbolic gesture representing her desire for warmth, connection, and hope. The storm serves as both a metaphor for her internal struggles and the external challenges they face.
    • Conflict with Paul: Despite her love for Paul, Ellen finds herself in conflict with his pragmatic and stoic nature. Paul’s commitment to the farm and his determination to persevere through the harsh conditions create a divide between them. The struggle between Ellen’s emotional needs and Paul’s practicality forms a central tension in the narrative.
  2. Paul:
    • Stoic Determination: Paul is portrayed as a stoic and determined farmer who labors tirelessly to make a living from the unforgiving prairie land. His dedication to his work is evident in his efforts to withstand the relentless winds and provide for his family. However, this determination comes at a cost, as it distances him emotionally from Ellen.
    • Disconnect from Ellen: Paul’s commitment to the farm and the practical aspects of survival lead to a growing disconnect from Ellen. His focus on the physical demands of their environment blinds him to his wife’s emotional struggles. The inability to bridge this emotional gap becomes a significant source of tension in their relationship.
    • Conflict with Nature: Paul’s character is also in conflict with the harsh nature of the prairie. His efforts to tame the land and make a living from it represent a constant struggle against the relentless wind and barren landscape. This external conflict mirrors the internal conflict within their marriage.
  3. The Child (Offstage Character):
    • Symbol of Hope and Loss: The child, who remains offstage and is not directly portrayed in the story, serves as a powerful symbol. The absence of the child becomes a poignant representation of both hope and loss. The hope for a better future, embodied in the idea of having a child, is juxtaposed against the harsh reality of their present circumstances.

The Painted Door by Sinclair Ross – Worksheet PDF

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The Painted Door by Sinclair Ross – Worksheet

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