Patricia Highsmith's Short Story 'The Prude'

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The Prude
“I’ll get them to the altar as virgins . . . to the altar . . .” (p. 98 ll. 14-15). These are the main character of the story’s remorseful last words in Patricia Highsmith’s short story “The Prude” from 1975 that portrays the tragic story of a mother who ends up feeling that she has failed her purpose in life. In the story Patricia Highsmith tells of a mother’s struggle with her more modern children and the more modern society. These conflicts end up destroying not only the family but also both parents, Sharon and Matthew.
In the story, the main focus lies on the parents of the three daughters, Sharon and Matthew, who at first seem to be very much alike, but it turns out that this might be untrue. Sharon was raised as a puritan by her mother, who said that she ought to be “Pure in every way” (p. 93 l. 9) and had emphasized the importance of staying a virgin until marriage. Sharon went on to raise her children according to the same ideals, but not with the same success. Her ideals and rules were even thought of by her friends as “old-fashioned” (p. 93 l. 22) which might also be the case. She for example ends up in conflicts with her daughters because her ideology does not fit in with the time in
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When the doctor attends her, he mentions that “She is illustrating the fall of her house” (p. 97 l. 31). The fall is the apparent turning point in her life since all hope is out, she has failed her purpose, and her daughters are now nothing but “tramps, [and] whores” (p. 97 l. 46) in her eyes. Sharon saw her main purpose in life as getting her daughters to the altar as virgins, and on her deathbed her last words even are, “I’ll get them to the altar as virgins” (p. 98 ll. 14-15). She is apparently still fixated on the thought that she has failed in life and she seems very penitent because of
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