For Ann, her awareness of time passing is torturous. It always moves either too slowly or too quickly for her. She feels that she is constantly waiting for the next season to come, and constantly waiting for each year to pass so that she and John will be a little closer to paying off the mortgage on the farm and being able to enjoy their life together. Ann sees herself as young, but feels that she will be too old to enjoy nice clothes and a big house by the time John has saved enough money to buy her these things.
Because Ann feels trapped by the passage of time, she takes many small actions in an effort to control it. She paints an old doorframe in an effort to make it new, and sleeps with Steven in an effort to feel young and free. Nothing she does manages to change the relentless march of the clock and calendar, however. She knows the paint will crack and peel, and isn’t enough to really make the house new anyways. Her night with Steven leaves her feeling guilty and sad, doing nothing to hasten the arrival of spring or a paid-off mortgage.
Both Ann and John focus so much on the future, each in their own way, that they fail to make a life for themselves in the present. The only character who seems to live fully in the present is Steven. He is only interested in enjoying a night next to Ann, and is unconcerned with the future consequences of his actions—however selfish or immoral this might be. The tragedy portrayed in “The Painted Door” shows us that the future is never certain and can disappear in an instant. Relying on the possibility of future happiness only ends in disappointment, and it is through living in the present (no matter how bleak and brutal it may seem) that we can find joy.
Time and Aging ThemeTracker
Time and Aging Quotes in The Painted Door
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.
“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 occupied, something to stave off the gathering cold and loneliness.
“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.”
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 pretty clothes—only right that he, fit for nothing else, should slave away fifteen hours a day to give them to her.
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 shriveling 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...
She was young still, eager for excitement and distractions; and John’s steadfastness rebuked her vanity, made her complaints seem weak and trivial. She went on fretfully, “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.”
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 days and years to come, she would try to make amends.