One of the main themes in "Petrified Man" is the contrast between outer appearance and personality. For example, the women spend much of their time on beauty treatments such as permanents and make-up. However, their gossip reveals that they have rather ugly personalities: Leota finds pleasure in talking about the exhibits at a freak show, and Mrs. Fletcher, among other things, says that she does not want to have her child anymore after encountering the three-year-old Billy, who runs around in the beauty parlor. Moreover, it is interesting that the freak show is right next door, which leads to overlaps: the petrified man, wanted for rape, was not discovered at first because of the powder on his face, which is another example of make-up being used to cover up an ugly personality.
Lack of Self-Awareness
In the end, Billy sarcastically states after being spanked by the ladies: "If you're so smart, why ain't you rich?" This reveals the shallowness 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 reveals that they are not as successful as they pretend to be. They aren't paying attention to what is going on because they only care about things on the surface rather than truth.
Even though the title reads "Petrified Man," all men in the story except Billy are petrified in the sense that they are portrayed as passive and lazy. Instead, the women pride themselves on being the ones in charge at home. For example, Mrs. Fletcher says that "Mr. Fletcher can't do a thing with [her]," but by winking in the mirror Leota immediately reveals that this statement is ironic, as clearly Mr. Fletcher got her pregnant. At the same time, Leota is sick of her husband Fred, who is unemployed and spends his time fishing and hanging out with Mr. Pike. She wants him to work in another town because of a fortune teller's prophecy, but it is clear that this will never happen. Mrs. Pike has to urge her jobless husband to take the reward money.
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.