Abused and ignored, Mrs. Grimes is a pathetic figure whose suffering is both cyclical and unrelenting. From her parents’ death (which is implied yet not described in the story) to her servitude with the Germans, and continuing through her difficult, loveless marriage, the old woman continually experiences fresh traumas as she trades one set of harsh circumstances for another. Each incident in her life seems to be evidence of a greater truth—namely, that she was born to suffer. The narrator further implies that Mrs. Grimes is only one example of a larger category of people. Early on in the story, the narrator insists that the woman is “nothing special” and that most people living in rural areas in America have encountered such a woman. By then going on to describe this supposedly insignificant woman’s harrowing life, the narrator implies that many more women like Mrs. Grimes exist on the fringes of society, unseen in their suffering.
As the narrator asserts, Mrs. Grimes is “destined to feed animal life.” In each situation, it has been the woman’s responsibility to feed the men and animals in her care. On the Germans’ farm, she is expected to feed the farmer’s sexual appetites. On her husband’s farm, she spends all her energy scraping together enough food to keep her husband, son, and animals from starving. Even in death, the old woman continues to feed others. In the dogs’ case, she literally feeds them, as they take advantage of her death to steal away the pack of meat she has been carrying on her back. Metaphorically, however, the old woman also feeds the narrator’s imagination, as the beautiful, cryptic image of her white corpse continues to fuel the narrator’s art long into his adulthood.