The main characters of the short story are two elderly women Mrs. Slade and Mrs. Ansley. Thorough the theme of marriage, the author shows that most women rely upon successful match in order to achieve high social position. The short story suggests something of the historical loss for women of transferring the sense of self to relationships with men. For instance, Mrs. Slade reflected "he had always regarded herself (with a certain conjugal pride) as his equal in social gifts, as contributing her full share to the making of the exceptional couple they were" (Wharton). Wharton depicts that social status plays an important role in life of both women, because high social position determine their happiness and guarantee public recognition. The character of Mrs. Ansley does not differ greatly from her friend. "Mrs. Ansley was much less articulate than her friend, and her mental portrait of Mrs. Slade was slighter" (Wharton). Both women portrayed as typical wives whose domestic role is predetermined.
The theme of widowhood helps Wharton to unmask contradiction arisen in the society and criticize dependence of women upon their husbands. Wharton vividly portrays that women mean nothing as social members without their husbands. "Yes; being the Slade's widow was a dullish business after that. In living up to such a husband all her faculties had been engaged; now she had only her daughter to live up to" (Wharton). In reality, both women find themselves defeated by the social norms they have followed all their life. Wharton unveils that their society had been solid and secure up to the moment their husbands were alive. To some extent, this short story shows a parody of the happy ending when women are faced with realities of live after death of their husbands. It seems that after husbands' deaths women are excluded from social life.
Wharton criticizes social statuses and positions which play a crucial role for women and unveils that women can commit any crime and play any trick upon their friends in order to secure their high position and public recognition. Wharton depicts that friendship does not exist between Mrs. Slade and Mrs. Ansley, because their lives have been nothing more than a struggle for happiness and high social position. For instance, Mrs. Slade has hated her friend all her life because Mrs. Ansley is lovely and cleverer than she is. Many years ago Mrs. Slade betrayed her in order to secure her marriage which meant high social position. Mrs Slade recollects: "And I remember laughing to myself all that evening at the idea that you were waiting around there in the dark, dodging out of sight, listening for every sound, trying to get in" (Wharton). Wharton criticizes that only marriage can preserves the vital social values of stability, continuity and propriety. Only at the cost of brutally suppressing equally powerful individual