Petrified Man

Petrified Man Literary Elements


Short Story

Setting and Context

A beauty parlor set in a small town in the Southern U.S. in the early 1940s

Narrator and Point of View

Third-person narrator

Tone and Mood

Tone: sardonic, ironic, scornful

Mood: envious, annoyed, merciless

Protagonist and Antagonist

Protagonist/Antagonist: Leota and Mrs. Fletcher play both roles, though neither are perfect fits

Major Conflict

There's not much of a conflict, but that is the point—the petty squabbles of the women seem like major conflicts to them. Will Mrs. Fletcher punish the woman who told everyone she was pregnant? Will Leota and Mrs. Pike's flimsy friendship survive? Will Leota ever get over not being the one to discover Mr. Petrie? All of these are inconsequential but nevertheless can be seen as conflicts the characters are facing.


Leota learns from Mrs. Pike that the petrified man in the freak show next door is actually a man wanted for rape. She is furious when Mrs. Pike gets a $500 reward based on an ad which was in one of Leota's magazines.


1. Mrs. Fletcher's hair floating "like a storm cloud" foreshadows the following argument between the two women.
2. When Mrs. Fletcher returns the next week, Leota's "preoccupied" mien makes us aware that something happened, foreshadowing her revelation of Mrs. Pike's good fortune




1. "Jack" Robinson: famous baseball player
2. Aquarian: the 11th Zodiac sign, ranging from January 21 to February 20
3. Screen Secrets: a gossipy magazine covering Hollywood
4. Startling G-Man: maybe one of the Startling Stories, popular pulp science fiction magazines (1939-1955)


"Separated by a lavender swing door," Leota's booth is described as "a den of curling fluid and henna packs," which connotes an image of seclusion and a sense of secrecy. In the booth, Mrs. Fletcher feels "hidden" so she can "give her curiosity its freedom," which emphasizes that the booth is considered a place away from the norms of social interaction, according to which she would not be able to gossip so openly.


Both women in the story want to appear beautiful on the outside, yet do not try to be beautiful on the inside as well. Instead, they reveal rather ugly personalities.


Mrs. Fletcher starts to hate Billy when her feelings are hurt. In the second half of the story, Leota shows a similar reaction and even starts to spank Billy when she feels frustrated. Both women thus take out their annoyances on the child of Mrs. Pike, who symbolizes both Mrs. Pike and the waywardness of things they cannot control.

Metonymy and Synecdoche



1. "she could give her curiosity its freedom"