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Written by Timothy Sexton
Miss Dent’s name is infused with symbolic meaning. The most obvious is the connotation that she is herself emotionally dented and was long before the collided with a clod named Blake. On other level, however, when Blake collides with the woman whose name he can barely recall, the symbolism of her name is reversed: she is about to put a dent in Blake’s comfort zone and sense of security that can’t be missed.
The commuter train is the symbol of that comfort zone in offering the reliable security that his world in the city will never intrude upon his life in the suburbs and vice versa. Miss Dent obviously recognizes the primal symbolic meaning of the train; enacting her strategy for revenge would have been more conveniently done among the uncaring anonymity of the city in almost every imaginable way. Threatening Blake on the train ride home, however, is a brilliantly conceived bit of tactical strategy. It’s a safe best his commute are never going to be quite the same as they were before.
Blake’s cocktail of choice, a Gibson, varies from a traditional martini most strikingly by the replacement of the traditional olive with two small pickled cocktail onions. Although no mention is made of the onions, New Yorker readers would likely have been aware that the onions were not only by virtue of the specificity of the name, but by the fact that it was becoming the de facto official businessman’s lunch drink of choice. Why? Because the two small onions were supposed to resemble two female breasts. Thus, the Gibson adds a subtle layer to the construction of Blake as a misogynist user of women who views them as disposable consumables.
Blake builds a bookcase in his home. Because of his love of knowledge? Not at all. The bookshelf is a substitute for a doorway in order to keep from having contact with his wife. And just in case his kids got the idea that they might want to read one of his book, he added smaller doors which could keep the books locked away from prying eyes. As a symbol of one man’s complete and total isolation from the rest of humanity and his attempt to compartmentalize that isolation, the bookshelf could not possibly be a more spectacularly valuable metaphor.
Miss Dent enters into Blake’s mind when she gives him the bad news that his thoughts about somehow making his escape when the train reaches Shady Hill is utterly misguided. Shady Hill is literally the name of one the many small suburban villages on the commuter train’s route. Symbolically, of course, it brings to mind any number of cemeteries across the country. No matter what the outcome, Miss Dent is informing, Blake has long been figuratively a dead man only now he has to admit it.
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