Almost mimicking the story’s visions and premonitions, du Maurier has filled the narrative with moments that point to some future event. She uses foreshadowing to indicate that trouble is coming soon, such as when John sees what he thinks is a small child wearing a hooded jacket fleeing danger through the streets and jumping from boat to boat across the canal. He has an uneasy feeling about what he has just seen but does not express this to Laura.
Barely twenty-four hours later, John sees the same little girl running for her life, and he follows her, calling out that he will protect her. But when he gets into a room with the “little girl,” she ends up being a “little thick-set woman dwarf.” The dwarf stabs John and, as he dies, he sees again his wife and the twin sisters on a boat—something that he saw earlier in the day but did not recognize as a premonition—and understands that he was and is now seeing them in the future as they return to Venice to pick up his body. The boat is moving down the Grand Canal,’ ‘not today, not tomorrow, but the day after that, and he knew why they were together and for what purpose they had come.”
In fact, most of the foreshadowing points to John’s death. The story opens with the couple joking that the two women in the restaurant are murderers, traveling around the world, changing their appearance with each stop—not unlike the murderer dwarf who first looks like a child. When John sees his wife on a boat inexplicably sailing back to Venice, only later does he understand that this was a foreshadowing of his own death. And when he visits the police station to report his wife’s mysterious disappearance, he meets with another British couple who mention that there is a murderer loose in Venice. Talking with the police officer later, John mentions the murderer. The officer responds, ‘ ‘We hope to have the murderer under lock and key very soon,” pointing to just a few hours later, when John will mistakenly bolt the door to a room where he is trapped with the murderer and will hear the police just outside the door.
Humor and Sarcasm
Du Maurier has John and Laura use humor and sarcasm to break the tension of the atmosphere around them, heavy with the memory of their dead daughter. The story opens with the two joking about a pair of sisters sitting at another table in the restaurant. They imagine that the sisters are crossdressers, which causes Laura to laugh almost hysterically. John has succeeded in distracting her thoughts from their dead child, and “her voice, for the first time since they had come away, took on the old bubbling quality he loved.” He continues thinking about the need for humor and jokes, adding,’ ‘if we can pick up the familiar routine of jokes shared at holiday and at home … then everything will fall into place.”
John reacts to the possibility of psychic visions with sarcasm. After seeing the sisters at the church, he suspects them of “touring the world, making everyone they met uncomfortable.” And when Laura tells him that the blind sister believes him to be psychic, he answers, “Fine, my psychic intuition tells me to get out of this restaurant now,” wanting to get as far away from the sisters as possible. After the sighted sister explains to him that the twins can deliver any message from their dead daughter “in the spirit world,” John envisions the sisters “putting on headphones in their bedroom, listening for a coded message from poor Christine.”
Thomas E. Barden – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 14, Daphne du Maurier – Published by Gale Cengage Learning.