Marion, Rebecca’s mother, died of cancer months before Rebecca and Tom go to Paris. She still has a profound influence, however, on her daughter. Rebecca seems to feel pressure to live an exciting, adventurous life that her mother could not have. When Rebecca buys the devil postcard and muses about how Marion would respond, she suggests that her mother had lived vicariously through Rebecca’s chronicles of her travels. Twice during her stay in Paris, she declares, “poor Marion,” expressing sorrow over her mother’s lack of fulfillment. Yet she seems also to resent Marion’s influence on her life when she cannot admit to Tom that she would have chosen her as a mother. Perhaps she blames her mother for her inability to find her own satisfaction in one place.
Rebecca, Tom’s wife and Marion’s daughter, is probably in her mid-thirties and feeling her biological clock ticking. Hesitant until now to start a family, she comes to Paris with her husband in 1991 intent on becoming pregnant. She and Tom appear to have traveled quite a bit and to be cosmopolitan in their tastes and references. Rebecca has an eye for detail and a refined imagination; watching a woman in a neighboring building, Rebecca imagines the woman setting a table with yellow pears on a wooden plate, having cut the fruit with heirloom pearl-handled silverware. Poetically aware of color, texture, and sound, Rebecca describes the “five-story buildings painted the color of old teacups and women with black hair.” She hears “a crowd far away, pushing at the seams of quiet.” Yet she is dissatisfied with herself; if her mother had come to Paris, she would have worn her “kelly green coat,” but comparing herself to the Parisians, Rebecca feels “dowdy.” She and Tom have difficulty trying to ignite their relationship and find the enthusiasm to start a family.
Rebecca’s references to how her mother would have responded to Paris reveal Rebecca’s sympathy for her and her unfulfilled dreams. She envisions her mother in Paris in better weather, meeting a dashing Frenchman. By contrast to this image, Rebecca’s own experiences there leave her detached and empty. Rebecca has an aloof relationship with her husband. While she sometimes tries to be affectionate with him, she often regards him as a stranger and finds little to say to him. She also exhibits a sense of detachment from others. When they sit next to the four old men playing cards in the restaurant, she does not try to interact with them, claiming, “it’s like we’re in a painting.” Her sense of separation is heightened in the museum where “everyone reads a brochure, or listens to tapes hung around their necks.” Her search for meaning reveals her selfabsorption. She never considers the needs of her husband and often overrides his wishes. She makes the decision to come to Paris just as she has made the decision to have a baby, even though her husband voices his concern about the timing and their hesitancy. When Paris does not fulfill her romantic visions, she turns inward, withdrawing from everyone, including Tom.
Tom, Rebecca’s husband, is tall, thin, and has large hands. He seems amiable and pliable, perhaps somewhat passive. Although he suggests that they should talk about having a baby, Rebecca is the one who cuts up her diaphragm, deciding to “live in the moment.” In asking repeatedly if she is “sure,” Tom may suggest his own uncertainty. Yet Rebecca is the one who envisions the impregnation, in Paris when her temperature “rises point six degrees.” When she wants to go out late at night and eat like Parisians, he balks but eventually agrees. He consistently avoids confrontation and gives into Rebecca’s desires, yet he never points out her lack of attention toward him. People like Tom because he appears “quaint” and most likely because of his amiability. Rebecca falls in love initially with the sound of his name, and she sympathizes with him over a difficult relationship he had in the past. He appears more content with their lives but also seems to experience the same sense of disconnection that Rebecca feels. When they play the imagining game, he envisions he might have ridden on a train that crossed Canada except for discovering “that recently they disconnected the route.” At one point, the narrator notes that while Rebecca holds his hand, he holds an umbrella, perhaps suggesting that he does not respond to her offer of affection. This lack of connection extends to their sexual relationship as well, as Tom feels the need to eat oysters to help him prepare for being sexual, and Rebecca drifts off into a fantasy during intercourse.
Ira Mark Milne – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 24, Kate Walbert, Published by Gale Group, 2006