The Painted Door

The Painted Door Study Guide

Published in 1939, Sinclair Ross's "The Painted Door" is a short story about Ann, a farmer's wife who has an affair while her husband is away during a fierce winter storm. Feeling an increasing sense of isolation, alienation, and resentment, Ann paints her bedroom door white as the prairie storm intensifies around her. Their neighbor Steven visits to keep Ann company while she waits for John to return from visiting his father's farm, five miles away on foot. Steven seduces Ann, convincing her that John will not return in such dangerous weather. After sleeping with Steven, Ann wakes to find John looking over her with a sorrowful expression. She wakes again to find he is gone. She convinces herself John's presence was only a dream. Feeling guilt for having cheated, Ann decides she will recommit herself to John, who has always seen his long days of labor as a sacrifice to their marriage. However, the next day her neighbors find John's dead body. Ann holds his frozen hand and sees a smear of white paint, suggesting that he had entered the house, discovered the affair, and then decided to go back into the storm to die in a last gesture of sacrifice.

Contemplative, brooding, and tragic, "The Painted Door" explores themes of fidelity, isolation, resentment, and the tension between fantasy and reality. An example of the often-unsentimental genre of prairie fiction, the story contains several elements common to the genre: the significance of weather, the isolation of the prairie, hardy characters, stark imagery, and melancholic themes.

In 1984, the National Film Board of Canada adapted "The Painted Door" into a twenty-four–minute short film of the same name, which was directed by Bruce Pittman. The film had a limited theatrical release and was aired on Global Television in Canada.