“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.
Isolation vs. Connection ThemeTracker
Isolation vs. Connection Quotes in The Painted Door
“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.”
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.
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.”
“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.”
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.
“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.”