_Sredni Vashtar_ and _Such a Pretty Little Picture_ are short stories whose main heroes share a common character trait: they both dream about a world where they can finally be free. Both of them live in a reality in which they do not feel happy and they use their imagination to escape from their forlorn position. The two protagonists are Conradin, a ten-year-old boy who is diagnosed with a fatal illness and Mr. Wheelock, who has a seemingly perfect life but deep down he wants nothing more but escape. While Conradin is a prisoner of his own illness, Mr. Wheelock is cornered by the expectations of society.
“Conradin was ten years old, and the doctor had pronounced his professional opinion that the boy would not live another five years.” – with this opening sentence starts the story of Conradin. He is a boy who carries a huge burden which should not be beard by someone so young. He lives with his aunt, Mrs. De Ropp, who takes pleasure in forbidding Conradin everything that might bring him joy. Mrs. De Ropp is portrayed as a cold and cruel lady who treats Conradin poorly and likes thwarting him under the guise of taking care of him. The only safe haven for Conradin is a little shed where he keeps his two pets: a Houdan hen, which he considers a dear friend and a ferret, whom he fears and idealizes as a god, Sredni Vashtar. Each night, Conradin worships and prays to the “hutch-god” and begs him: “Do one thing for me, Sredni Vashtar.”. He does not specify what he wants, because gods are supposed to know one`s deepest desire. One day Mrs. De Ropp finds out about Conradin`s visits to the shed and goes to investigate, but she never emerges again. In the last scene the blood-covered ferret appears and Conradin sighs in relief to finally be set free. (_Sredni Vashtar_, Saki)
Mr. Wheelock appears to be a perfect husband with a perfect family and perfect life. But it is just the surface. He is dissatisfied with his life, his wife often makes fun of him in public and questions his masculinity and his daughter is an ill-favored child with whom he has no strong bond. He hears about a man who for the last twenty years “had gone to the city on the 8:12, sitting in the same seat in the same car, and every evening he had gone home to his wife on the 5:17, sitting in the same seat in the same car”, but one day, instead of going home on the train as usual, he paused, walked off, and was never seen again. Mr. Wheelock starts to fantasize about running away and never look back, but he always comes up with something that delays his plan. At the end he remains with the one thing he can properly do – cutting the hedge while daydreaming about the breaking out from his monotone life, because “clipping the hedge was one of the few domestic duties that Mr. Wheelock could be trusted with”. (_Such a Pretty Little Picture_, Parker, 1995)
Conradin and Mr. Wheelock are similar in a sense that both of them are suppressed by a dominant woman. Conradin`s life is dictated by the prohibitions set by Mrs. De Ropp. It is not enough that this little boy is severely sick, but he has to put up with a cold-hearted guardian, who instead of giving her nephew the little things that would make his final years tolerable, takes all the joy from his life. Mr. Wheelock endures his wife`s constant mocking and deep inside yields to the fate of being an insignificant member of his family.
However, while Conradin is tried by his aunt every step of the way, he does not give up and believes that Sredni Vashtar will give him what he desires the most: the death of Mrs. De Ropp. Although he does not actively do anything, Conradin is not a quitter and continually begs his fantasy god to help him. Mr. Wheelock, on the contrary, is rewarded with an opportunity to change his lifestyle and flee, but instead of snatching at the chance, he finds excuses against it, e.g.: people might think, he left for improper reasons, like for another woman – which shows how much Mr. Wheelock cares about the opinion of the society – or that he has to leave his job which “he did not particularly dislike”. The ability to make decisions is the main difference between these two characters. Mr. Wheelock is too much of a coward to take the risk and abandon his comfortable but boring life and he can only thank to himself for the situation he is in, because he was the one who decided to marry Adelaide. Conradin, however, is a young child who finds himself alone in the world and has no other choice but to subordinate himself to the whim of Mrs. De Ropp.
PARKER, D.: _Such a Pretty Little Picture_, Penguin Books, London, 1995, ISBN: 978-1-101-14403-9