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Gender Roles in the Painted Door by Sinclair Ross

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The “The Painted Door” is a literary short story which portrays the strain on the relationship between a farmer and his spouse. It divulges in their lack of commitment, which results in a discontent marriage. Ann, whom is the protagonist of the story, endeavours to connect with others, instead of living in solitaire. John is the antagonist, who is an introverted male, and fails to fulfill the emotional needs of his wife. The story revolves around Ann, who resides in a country home and is left alone, while her husband struggles with the environment to visit his father. Ann seeks consolation from Steven, the handsome friend of John. Furthermore, the infidelity of Ann is perceived to be the major cause to John’s death. Throughout the text, the author explores two major themes; isolation versus connection, and man versus woman (gender roles). A wide range of literary devices such as irony, pathetic fallacy, foreshadowing, and symbolism are utilized to enhance the overall themes, in addition to characterization and tone. Altogether, the “The Painted Door” essentially renders around the conflicts between a male and a female, and their lack of communication to resolve their differences. The theme of the text heightens the overall concept of the story, along with the personality development of the characters.

“The Painted Door” is mainly character-driven, which essentially implies that the story places importance on the characters and their personality, than the physical events. It is clear that Ann is the protagonist of the story, and is selfish. She is firm that “John is responsible for her unhappiness … and his steadfastness rebuked her vanity”. Ann is unable to express her frustration with others, and considers that she is trapped in an unhealthy relationship. Ann is shown to be a dynamic character, as she is an unhappy wife near the beginning of the text, and a regretful widow near the end. John is perceived as an unambitious, stereotypical, and selfless farmer. He is the antagonist, as he does not fulfill the needs of Ann. Steven is yet another important character in the story. He is seen as a reassuring male figure to Ann; however, is a static and flat character, as the author does not deeply emphasize his perspective.

Two recurring themes that are present throughout the story are isolation opposed to connection, and masculinity versus femininity. The “The Painted Door” revolves around an isolated environment. Ann struggles to seek comfort as the physical environment itself is located in a harsh and rural setting. For instance, “the distant farmsteads she could see serves only to intensify her sense of isolation”. The landscape reflects and builds upon Ann’s isolation. Ann encounters loneliness while in her farmhouse and imagines of attending local dances, inviting guests over, and playing cards. She states, “‘A few hours and they’ll be here’”. It is evident that Ann is desperate for human connections with other individuals. As Ann is unable to express her feelings with others, obtain affection and advice from an external voice, she yearns to be social. Socialization plays a vital role in an individual’s physical and mental health. It provides a general relief of satisfaction; however, Ann lacks social interaction, which is seen to greatly impact other aspects of her life as well. It is observed that John prefers to visit his father than comfort Ann, which eventually derails him into losing his wife forever, after his death. Conversely, as for Ann, infidelity plays a greater role than loyalty, which causes her to lose her husband for an eternity. Regardless of how close or distant a couple is within a relationship, the author places importance on isolation, and how an individual lives and dies alone. Isolation is seen as a superior ‘figure’, and claims to ravage relationships.

“The Painted Door” is keen on depicting the stereotypical roles of a man and a woman. The contrast between masculinity and femininity, and the tension of gender roles, is the main source of conflict in the text. Ann feels she should be a grateful wife to a loyal husband, who assists her with all her physical needs. As Ann mentions, “It will mean another two miles if you do. You’re going to be cold and tired enough as it is. When you’re gone I think I’ll paint the kitchen woodwork”. A clear connection is drawn, as Ann is characterized in the role of a traditional house wife, who is self-sacrificing for her husband. Self-sacrifice builds no communication of feelings between both partners, which puts a strain on the marriage. John treats Ann as a stereotypical female who assumes “pretty clothes for her” brings happiness; however, he prevents to see the unhappiness of his wife, which only brings frustration and resentment to the relationship. As John states, “You won’t need to go to near the stable. Everything is fed and watered now to last till night”, John is solely concerned about the physical wellbeing of Ann. He places no significance on her emotions and sense of isolation, which brings disconnection. Ann opens to a different companionship through a different feminine role, and being with a man of distinct masculine characteristics. With Steven, she is flirtatious, eager, and lively. Ann enjoys Steven’s presence and brings out the open character in her. It is vivid that the strict stereotypical gender roles develop conflict. In summation, the author develops stereotypical characters which enhance the themes found within the story. The author contends, that in order for a relationship to be successful, there must be a connection and feeling of inclusiveness. The overpowering gender roles deprive communication and commitment, resulting in unsolved differences.

Multiple figurative devices are utilized to bring more effectiveness to the tone, characters, and theme of the story. Devices such as irony, pathetic fallacy, and foreshadowing are seen to give emphasis as to what the author conveys throughout the text. The author corresponds Ann’s internal conflicts and emotions with the storm; both growing in rage. As the story further emerges, and the storm intensifies, Ann succumbs to infidelity and is sleep with Steven. The next morning, the storm passed. Connotatively, it compares Ann’s emotions from furious and eager, to regret and guilt. Verbal irony is utilized to express Ann’s concerns, as she states, “Plenty to eat – plenty of wood to keep me warm – what more can a woman ask for?”. Ann utilizes sarcasm when expressing her opinion on stepping out of the traditional role of a wife. Using this statement, she emphasizes her need for a stronger emotional attachment with her husband. Foreshadowing occurs as Ann is waken from a dream after sleeping with Steven. Ann sees a “gleam of light revealing John’s face. And in it is not a trace of threat or anger, but a calm, and stone like hopelessness”. She is startled after dreaming that John witnesses her affair; but only in the end does it come into light that the series of events in Ann’s dreams are true. The stain of paint on John’s palms verify that he sees Ann in bed, and leaves immediately in despair.

The tone can be drawn from the story, upon analyzing the common mood the literary devices reflect. “The Painted Door” is dreary, lonely, and includes the absence of happiness. As with pathetic fallacy, the weather plays a crucial role in depicting the overall somber emotions of the characters. The author’s choice of words, such as “blustering and furious” and “insane and dominant” demonstrate Ann’s feelings toward John, and the predominant negativity within the story. Altogether, the figurative language utilized, add to the dreary tone of the story, and put clarification in further understanding the characters, and their conflicts.

Symbolism is vital in enhancing the internal and external conflicts of the characters. It further divulges the significance between the actions and emotions of Ann and John. To start, the door symbolizes the relationship between Ann and John; sturdy. The door is what allows those in and out of the house. It identifies the people whom Ann and John allow into their lives. The paint is seen to symbolize Ann’s inner thoughts. The fresh white paint on the door covers up the old paint; hence, Ann’s emotions are covered with something that does not express how she truly feels. As Ann “smeares the blankets coming through”, she expresses her disconnection and disloyalty from John. Smearing the newly painted door solely reflect the effect of Steven’s presence. As Ann “always waited for” a man like Steven, “handsome and young and clean-shaven”, she disregards what is important to her. The amount of care that is omitted from Ann, depicts how much she has to offer for her marriage. Another symbol is the blizzard itself. It stands as the barrier that isolates Ann from John. As Ann is unable to reach out to her husband, she is seen to be trapped in a world different from her husband’s. As Ann states, “It’s cold still in March sometimes”, she denotatively blames her isolation and unhappiness on an external, natural force. This hints that the storm is truly the hurdle between Ann and John, in which it develops the disconnection between them. The fire depicts Ann’s level of purity. It is described as warm and lust near the beginning. The fire is meant to comfort Ann, and it provides light to the house. As “Ann slips out to build up the fire, it is burned to a few spent embers”. Upon presumably sleeping with Steven, the fire dies out when an is disloyal. The major conflicts throughout the story are man versus self and, man versus environment. Ann struggles to cope with her inner thoughts and faces difficulties being the wife of a farmer. She is left in isolation, which condemns her to seek emotional support from another male figure. The storm being the barrier, develops paranoia, and tension between Ann and John’s relationship. Again, it is deemed to be the main source of conflict, that prevents Ann from communicating, and expressing her feelings of grief with John. To summarize, the relationship between the two major forms of conflict, and the various symbolic aspects within the text, interconnect to deeply comprehend the personality of the characters.

In summary, “The Painted Door” is a short story that portrays the issues between a man and his wife. The excessive level of isolation and strict gender roles, amidst the couple, develop Ann’s infidelity. The author clearly reflects the conflicts, and allows the reader to sympathize with the protagonist, through the effective use of figurative devices, symbolism, and theme. The actions of John and the diction of Ann in “The Painted Door”, divulge in the dispute between a couple and their unsettled differences, through the lack of commitment, communication, understanding, and the overpowering of self-sacrifice.

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Gender Roles in the Painted Door by Sinclair Ross. (2020, October 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 16, 2021, from
“Gender Roles in the Painted Door by Sinclair Ross.” GradesFixer, 10 Oct. 2020,
Gender Roles in the Painted Door by Sinclair Ross. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 16 Jun. 2021].
Gender Roles in the Painted Door by Sinclair Ross [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2020 Oct 10 [cited 2021 Jun 16]. Available from:
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