"Reach in my purse and git me a cigarette without no powder in it if you kin, Mrs. Fletcher, honey."
The first sentence of the short story reveals much about one of the main characters, Leota. She is from the South, as she has a thick accent. She does not seem to be very eloquent because she makes syntax and grammar mistakes. She must use a lot of powder, which spread all over the contents of her purse. And she wants to have a close relationship with her customers, as she addresses Mrs. Fletcher using "honey" as a term of endearment.
"Why? What're you gonna do to her?"
After Mrs. Fletcher learns that someone spread the word that she is pregnant, she is furious and threatens to punish the guilty person for her loose tongue. However, the three-year-old Billy Boy is quick to expose her words as empty threats because she does not answer his straightforward and legitimate question. Mrs. Fletcher is in fact full of strong opinions and expostulations, and has a strong sense of self (though rooted in pride, envy, and schadenfreude). She does not like being talked about, especially in regards to her pregnancy; her vanity means that talk abut her hair falling out, her growing stomach, and the reality that her husband impregnated her when she clearly does not want children are loathsome to her.
"Mr. Fletcher takes bending exercises every night of the world. I make him."
After Leota told Mrs. Fletcher about the petrified man, who cannot move, Mrs. Fletcher indicates that her husband would be equally passive and immobile if she did not make him move. This emphasizes that the husband is regarded as a lazy man who needs to be dominated by his wife in order to achieve something. In a broader sense, the "bending over" may also mean that in general she makes him do things he does not want to do. Mrs. Fletcher takes pride in this power over her husband, and seems to care more about what the women in the town think than what he thinks.
"Her husband ought to could make her behave. Don't it seem that way to you?... He ought to put his foot down."
This statement reveals Mrs. Fletcher's contradictory views on the relationship between husband and wife. On the one hand, she wants women to stand up for themselves and takes pride in controlling her husband, but on the other hand, she also wants the men to reprimand their wives. She is part of a patriarchal society in which women are wives and mothers and have a certain place that they should not step out of, but she also knows that within this system women do have power that can be manifested as ordering their husbands around, denigrating them in front of others, and controlling the sexual politics of the relationship.
"If you're so smart, why ain't you rich?"
The sarcastic exit statement of the three-year-old boy reveals the shallowness and uselessness of the women's gossip. They pretend they know it all, and think they have the right to judge others because they are better than them. However, the fact that they are stuck in their beauty parlor in a small town, complaining about and envying others, reveals that they are small-minded.
Petrified Man Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Petrified Man is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.