Read “The Painted Door” by Sinclair Ross.
Write an essay in which you develop your thesis from one of these topics:
- man-woman conflict
- the role of nature
- fate and irony
- the place of art and beauty
- the possibility of redemption and atonement
- the possibility of communication
- the effects of loneliness on the self and on relationships
“The Painted Door” is partly an anatomy of a sin – and of a repentance that comes, tragically, scant hours too late. As the recorder of that sin, Ross is severe, portraying Ann as a woman just good enough to be fully culpable, in a way that the handsome but morally vacant Steven is not and cannot be. Indeed, the reader may ask whether the two crucial elements in Ann’s tragedy – her contrition and regained love for John, and John’s grief-stricken retreat back into the storm – are reasonable to be predicted given what we know of the characters, or are imposed on the story as part of Ross’s indictment of Ann as a woman unworthy of John.
But the story can also be seen as a portrayal of a seduction – or perhaps a series of rapes culminating in a barely noticed seduction. For Ann’s moral will is assaulted by the storm, and her nerves and mental balance are battered by isolation, long before Steven arrives to confront her with nothing more aggressive than clean-shaven jowls and an easy smile. In fact, during the hours of mounting sexual tension beside the stove, Ann seems to be seduced not so much by Steven as by her own overstrained, terrified, feverish imagination; the “act” is so understated, and Steven so passive throughout, that it is possible to miss that point that Ann and Steven have not just bundled together for warmth. Her storm-induced hallucinations, then, are powerful, even decisive agents in her seduction; but in the end it is Ann, not the elements, whom Ross taxes with kindness.
Other topics for discussion: