The Painted Door

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Isolation vs. Connection Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Loyalty and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Connection Theme Icon
Time and Aging Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Painted Door, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Isolation vs. Connection Theme Icon

“The Painted Door” takes place in a very isolated physical environment. Personal connections in this kind of harsh, rural setting are not something to be taken for granted. Ann is lonely in their little farmhouse, and dreams of going to local dances or of having friends over to play cards. In order to care for his aging father and make sure Ann has company during a storm, John must walk many miles in a raging snowstorm. Maintaining any kind of connection requires extreme sacrifice.

In the end, personal connections are revealed to be subjective and fleeting. No matter how strong we believe our personal relationships to be, Ross suggests, ultimately we live and die alone. John chooses to visit his father rather than stay home with Ann, which results in him losing her forever. Ann chooses the brief comfort of sleeping with Steven over her relationship with John, which results in her losing her husband forever. Ann’s treasured friendship with Steven is likely to have been destroyed as well, because she chose her desire for a physical partner over her need to maintain their card-playing, meal-sharing non-sexual relationship. The wild isolation of the prairie is ready and waiting to claim any relationship, even one as close and established as Ann and John’s marriage.

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Isolation vs. Connection ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Isolation vs. Connection appears in each chapter of The Painted Door. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Isolation vs. Connection Quotes in The Painted Door

Below you will find the important quotes in The Painted Door related to the theme of Isolation vs. Connection.
The Painted Door Quotes

“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 supposing it does start to storm.”

Related Characters: Ann (speaker), John (speaker)
Page Number: 96
Explanation and Analysis:

The roots of John and Ann’s troubles are evident in this brief exchange. John has made what he feels is a pragmatic, self-sacrificing choice to check on his elderly father. The coming storm compels him to make sure his loved ones are safe. Although Ann can see his reasoning, she cannot help but feel that he is abandoning her. Although she protests that she feels unsafe, what she really fears is not the snowstorm but the loneliness and boredom of spending a long day and evening alone in the house. John can see that she is unhappy, and that worries him, but he misunderstands the reason for her unhappiness. His intense focus on physical and material safety blinds him to her emotional turmoil.

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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, to cower before the implacability of snow-swept earth and clear pale sun-chilled sky.

Related Characters: Ann (speaker), The Neighbors
Page Number: 97
Explanation and Analysis:

Someone else might see the glittering, pure snow outside the window as something beautiful. For Ann, however, it only serves as a reminder of how isolated and lonely her life is. The landscape reflects her emotional state. Much as the neighbors’ distant houses seem like desperate, futile attempts to resist nature, John’s endless self-sacrifice seems like a desperate, futile attempt to build a fulfilling, happy life for them as a couple. It is clear from this description that Ann does not love the place she lives, and that she does not have a significant support system or social life outside of her marriage. When John leaves her for the day, she feels as though he is abandoning her to face this bleak land alone.

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 to spend a little time on yourself.”
He stood up, stroking the heavy stubble on his chin. “Maybe I should—only it softens up the skin too much. Especially when I’ve got to face the wind.”

Related Characters: Ann (speaker), John (speaker), Steven
Page Number: 98
Explanation and Analysis:

Although Ann and John seem to speak comfortably and openly with each other, their communication is heavily restricted by their gendered perspectives. Ann tries to behave in ways she thinks are befitting of a good farmer’s wife. When John fails to understand how his leaving makes her feel, she tries a different tactic to assuage her frustration. When she says she wants him to spend a little time on himself, she is trying to tell him that she wishes they could relax and enjoy each other more in the present, instead of only focusing on practicalities and planning for a distant future. Yet Ann feels that if she were to express her frustration fully it would sound selfish and ungrateful, so she only hints at it by asking John to shave in preparation for Steven’s company. John’s practical, literal interpretation of her request completely misses this important subtext. This also foreshadows (perhaps in Ann’s mind as well) the comparisons Ann will make later between Steven’s boyish, youthful looks and John’s weathered, bearded face.

“It’s better with four, but at least we can talk. That’s all I need—someone to talk to. John never talks. He’s stronger—he doesn’t understand. But he likes Steven—no matter what the neighbors 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.”

Related Characters: Ann (speaker), John, Steven, The Neighbors
Page Number: 99-100
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, Ann acknowledges out loud the main source of her frustration. She knows that she is lonely and needs someone to talk to, but rather than see this as a legitimate need she identifies it as a weakness. She thinks John is “stronger” than she is because he doesn’t seem to get lonely. Ann’s hint that the neighbors gossip about John not liking Steven shows us that the neighbors are not a sufficient source of friendship and social life for Ann (and also perhaps suggests past tensions or jealousies). She sees them as part of her frustrations, not part of the solution. This is also an example of Ann attempting to control the passage of time. She thinks that the slow change of the seasons is to blame for her unhappiness, and focuses on the idea that spring will bring happiness.

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.

Related Characters: Ann (speaker)
Page Number: 104
Explanation and Analysis:

When she thinks that neither John nor Steven will be able to make it through the storm, Ann is surprised that she feels liberated. Without a male presence in the house, she feels she is allowed to do things which she would never normally do, like venture outside to feed the animals. Ann craves a change in routine and control over her own destiny, and the idea of being left alone for the evening gives her a little taste of both those things. The loneliness she struggles with is not necessarily the result of a lack of company, but a lack of company combined with a lack of freedom. Even though being left behind by John initially made her angry and afraid, having to survive on her own makes her feel slightly more powerful and free.

“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.”

Related Characters: Ann (speaker), John, The Neighbors
Related Symbols: The Double Wheel Around the Moon
Page Number: 115
Explanation and Analysis:

Up until this point at the very end of the story, Ann has portrayed herself and John as in opposition to or disconnection from each other. Although they love each other, their individual perspectives and desires have driven them apart. After his death, however, Ann is able to acknowledge the depth of their connection. The neighbors, like Ann early on in the story, mention that the double wheel around the moon would have warned any reasonable person that a horrific storm was on its way. Although she had previously denied it, here Ann admits that she knew John would never let anything prevent him from reaching his loved ones. We see that she and John knew each other better than anyone else knew them, and that although she has just slept with Steven and is surrounded by the neighbors, Ann is more isolated than ever before.