The Painted Door
One act of betrayal is enough for a person to lose everything. “The Painted Door”, written by Sinclair Ross, is a heart-breaking short story that portrays loyalty and sacrifice in a relationship. Sinclair introduces 3 characters throughout the story: John, Ann and Steven. It is placed in middle of winter on the Canadian prairies. John, a farmer, tells his loving wife, Ann, that he is going to check on his father before a storm comes. She doesn’t want him to go at first, but he insists and offers to stop by their friend Steven’s house and ask him to keep her company while he is away. Ann loves John and they have been married for 7 years. He works day and night without any help, so they can pay off their mortgage, move to a bigger house and Ann can have some pretty clothes. Ann appreciates John’s hard work, but she sometimes feels lonely and wishes that they could enjoy themselves while they are young. This leads her into making a terrible mistake when Steven comes home to comfort her. Steven persuades Ann by insisting that John will not make it home due to the intense Blizzard. Ann decides that John will be away all night and sleeps with Steven. The next morning John is found dead near the house. Each of the characters in “The Painted Door” shows us that loyalty involves a sacrifice of some kind.
John is a strong, quiet farmer who thinks he is lucky to have a wife like Ann. He has a single goal in life: to provide Ann with the material comforts he thinks she deserves. Because of this, he works long hours and pinches pennies year after year so that he can pay off the mortgage on the farm and buy them a bigger house—but at the same time, all his devoted work means he doesn’t pay much attention to Ann in the present, and doesn’t notice her unhappiness. 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. Even in his death, John is self-sacrificing: he is careful to make his suicide look like an accident, which means that Ann’s infidelity remains her secret to keep.
Ann is John’s wife. The two of them have been married for seven years, and live together on a farm. Ann is youthful and energetic. Although she loves her husband and appreciates how hard he works, she dislikes the repetitive, isolated nature of life as a farmer’s wife. At the beginning of the story and until after she has slept with Steven, Ann demonstrates a strong internal conflict. On the one hand, she thinks that John is a good husband and that she should be grateful for the things she has. On the other hand, she is restless and feels that she is wasting the best years of her life working to pay off their mortgage. After she sleeps with Steven, Ann quickly regrets her decision to cheat on John. When faced with the idea of leaving him, she realizes that she loves her husband and she will be happiest sharing a life with him. Unfortunately, John discovers her infidelity in the night and kills himself before Ann has a chance to make amends.
Steven is Ann and John’s friend and neighbor. Ann and John both enjoy Steven’s company—they see him fairly often for a game of cards or a shared meal. Ann describes him as young, good-looking, sociable, and altogether very different from her hulking, silent husband. It is at John’s suggestion that Steven comes over to keep Ann company while John is away for the day. When he arrives, Steven seems very confident, even arrogant, and initiates a subtle flirtation with Ann. He seems to be aware that she is frustrated and lonely, and successfully convinces her that the blizzard outside will keep John away for the night. Steven is presented as a reflection of Ann’s desires, always in contrast to John. Steven never directly states that he wants to sleep with Ann, and he expresses no anxiety or guilt around their transgression. Although he is the catalyst for the action which destroys their marriage, it is the tension between John and Ann’s personalities and desires which drive the events of the story.
John is deeply loyal to his wife Ann, and he expresses this by working hard year after year in the hopes of providing her with a better life someday. Ann has been loyal to John throughout the seven years of their marriage, but she secretly resents some of the sacrifices that being married to him has required of her, particularly the social isolation of their farming life. 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. Because of the sacrifices he makes for a better future, John unintentionally drives Ann away from him. John is too focused on the idea of saving money for their future to see that she is unhappy in the present. When Ann feels she can no longer stand the sacrifices required of her marriage to John, she commits an extreme act of disloyalty by sleeping with Steven. Ann’s attempt to “have it all” by remaining married to John while exploring the excitement of Steven ends in a harsh reality check. In the end, Ross shows us that loyalty always involves a sacrifice of some kind. Each of the characters must give something up to hold onto whatever they feel is most important. When Ann betrays her husband, she gains the attentions of Steven and the possibility of a more exciting life, but she loses the love and security of her marriage. When John kills himself, he gives Ann the freedom she seemed to want and avoids all conflict with her, but he loses everything in the process.