Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.


Alcohol is referenced in the opening paragraph when the narrator describes the room in which nearly all the action will take place. The whiskey sits on the sideboard along with two tall glasses, some soda water, and fresh ice cubes in a bucket, which seems an innocent arrangement for a pleasant evening between a happily married couple. Patrick begins to use the alcohol with uncharacteristic speed signaling early on that something is amiss. The descriptions of the clattering of the ice against the glass as he imbibes, the unusually deep color of the whiskey in his second drink, and Mary’s observation of the thickness of the liquid as it slides down the sides of Patrick’s glass all help to build tension as the story unfolds.

From there the whiskey disappears for most of the narrative. Mary’s request that Sergeant Noonan pour her a drink late into the investigation, however, reintroduces the lingering presence of the alcohol and also highlights that Mary’s mental notations during the investigation must be solidifying into some kind of plan of action.

By the end of the story, the imbibing of the whiskey has changed the tone of the investigation and leads to the work’s final ironic twist.

Male Domination

Homemaker Mary Maloney is the only female in the story. Patrick Maloney, Jack Noonan, Sam the grocer, and O’Malley occupy roles that would be typically male in the 1950s. The recurrent reminder, whether overt or intuitive, that Mary is a pregnant woman in a man’s world fortifies every emotion Mary experiences and every action that takes place.

The female character is the only one whose mind is given entry by the omniscient narrator. The reader sees all the male characters only through Mary’s eyes. Though each of the men hold varying degrees of power over her, this point of view bequeathes upon Mary a power they don’t possess.

Patrick appears to hold all the cards in their marriage. Mary’s behavior with him is genuinely compliant until he pushes her too far. After the killing, the men view her as a damsel in distress, thereby allowing her to subvert expectations and pull off the subterfuge necessary to get away with her crime.

Listening and Observation

Mary Maloney is outwardly passive but her inclination to listen, observe, and silently calculate drives the narrative. Mary listens for Patrick’s tires on the gravel to signal his arrival home and the beginning of what she anticipates will be a happy evening. The sound of the ice cubes clashing against the bottom of his empty whiskey glass and her observation of the depth of color in his second drink both become warnings to Mary that something is different about her husband tonight.

Patrick, on the other hand, does virtually no listening or observing. He admonishes Mary to sit and listen to him because he has something to tell her. The narrator describes Mary’s eyes as large and bewildered while Patrick is described as keeping his head down. Mary even watches a tiny muscle near Patrick’s left eye twitch before he begins to speak again. She watches and listens to him without any interruption and without any direct verbal response when he is finished. Leading up to the murderous blow, Patrick is again unobservant of Mary as he keeps his back to her by the window.

Mary notes the quality of her own voice as she rehearses so that she may deceive Sam into believing that Patrick is alive and waiting at home for her. By listening to herself and adjusting her mindset, she becomes able to fake a natural vocal tone. During the investigation that follows, she manages to secure a strategic perch from which she observes and listens to every detail of the procedures. This allows her to critique and to plot. Through the open kitchen door, with irony and delight, she becomes an auditory witness to the success of her cunning cover-up plan.