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From My Face for the World to See (1958) by Alfred Hayes:

Ah! she said, triumphantly: the little boy hurts, doesn't it? I said, stonily, it might be a good idea if, instead of a psychiatrist, she stopped off one afternoon at a delousing station.

Did I (with her eyes widely open) really think so?

Yes: I thought so. A delousing station might, after all, be ever so much more helpful than some poor doctor trying, in a scheduled hour, to disentangle that soul of hers.

How nice to say she had one.

She had one. Oh stained a little and dirtied a little and cheap a little. But she had one.

White and fluttery?

White and fluttery and from the hand of God.

She was delighted. A soul: an actual soul. No one, in years, had used the word. Were souls coming back, like mahjong? But it was such a waste, wasn't it, to have bothered giving her one. so superfluous. It was one of the least necessary things. A soul, how silly. Of what possible use could it be, except to get in the way and trip her, at critical moments, like a nightgown that was a bit too long?

She was smiling, with her head somewhat to one side, tracing the rim of the martini glass with her finger.

That was the trouble: they kept giving you things you didn't need. They never gave you quite what you really needed. Enough guts, for example.

Didn't she have her share?

Sadly, no. No she didn't. she didn't have nearly enough. she could use more and more. she could use scads of it for what she wanted to do. she'd trade it in: one soul, slightly damaged, for its equivalent in guts. Did I know a buyer? someone interested in second-hand souls? someone who'd care to exchange? Really: she was serious. She was perfectly serious. She'd love to get rid of the damn thing; it was such a nuisance having one, and being expected to take care of it, when really there wasn't time, and there were so many other more important things which needed her constant attention.

Was I still brooding about the little boy?

I don't get the meaning of the whole context clearly and I think it is because the meaning of the "soul" is unclear to me. Does "soul" in this context mean "one person" or does it mean "her spirits"? it is somehow unclear to me. I think it means "person", but in the phrase: "to disentangle that soul of hers", I thought it means "spirits".

The meaning of some other words or phrase in this context that I wrote in bold is also unclear to me and maybe because the meaning of the word "soul" is unclear to me. Does "delousing station" mean "somewhere without bad people"? Does "guts" means "courage" and the writer is saying "some man who the girl become friend with give her courage"? The meaning of "did she have her shire?" is really unclear to me. Does it mean "some courage that she get"? I don't know whom "they" refers to.

Could you interpret this for me?

(I asked this question in ell.stackexchange with another title and they guide me to ask my question in this forum)

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  • 1
    A delousing station would generally be a place that gets rid of your lice (small insects that live in your hair). However, in this extract, it seems to means a place that will stop you from being a louse (a contemptible or unpleasant person) yourself. And there are other similar puns in this passage as well.
    – Peter Shor
    Jan 10 at 1:19
  • @PeterShor care to turn that into a full answer?
    – verbose
    Jan 10 at 8:09
  • In the sentence "How nice to say she had one." Does "one" refer to "soul"? and it is something that you must get rid of it? I think in this way "soul" refer to a man she get friend with. am I right? and in the sentence "they kept giving you things you didn't need." I did not know "they" refer to whom. Can we say: they are some people in authority and the word "soul" refer to them too and means they are bad people? and the sentence "Didn't she have her share?" is really unclear to me. can we interpret " mahjong" as bird? Or it is the game but I cant relate it to the game.
    – user11834
    Jan 10 at 8:38
  • @PeterShor Louse is also almost an anagram of soul, FWIW. (But I'm not familiar with this author and don't know if this is the kind of wordplay he'd employ deliberately.)
    – Rand al'Thor
    Jan 10 at 9:16
  • @Randal'Thor: ... and delousing and desouling are actual anagrams. I also don't know whether this means anything.
    – Peter Shor
    Jan 10 at 19:29
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A delousing station would generally be a place that gets rid of your lice (small insects that live in your hair). However, in this extract, it seems to means a place that will stop you from being a louse (a contemptible or unpleasant person) yourself.

So delousing station is wordplay on the meaning of the word louse. The same thing is true for soul — the various usages of the word soul mean different things.

One meaning of soul is the part of a person that lives on after death, as opposed to their body (and either goes to heaven or to hell). This is often represented as a "white and fluttery thing." In folklore, people sometimes "sell their soul to the devil"; this is a deal where they go to Hell after they die in exchange for getting something they want in this life.

Another meaning is a person's emotional nature — this is presumably what the psychiatrist is treating.

For a third meaning, if you are soulless, you lack compassion or other human feelings. This is implicit when she talks about getting rid of her soul.

And guts means courage here.

Mahjongg means the game ... it presumably went out of fashion, and then was coming back into fashion around the time this was written.

For some of your other questions, "how nice to say she had one" refers to her soul; "didn't she have her share" refers to guts.

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  • Lots of thanks. Does the sentence "she could use more and more" means: She could use one soul more and more? And does "guts" in the sentence "she'd trade it in: one soul, slightly damaged, for its equivalent in guts." also means: courage? Jan 12 at 15:57
  • It means "she could use more and more guts". And yes, "guts" probably means "courage" in that sentence.
    – Peter Shor
    Jan 12 at 16:16
  • Many thanks. And does "they" in the sentence "they kept giving you things you didn't need." refer to souls? Jan 12 at 16:50
  • I don't think so; I think it's a generic "they" (that is, whoever distributes souls and guts).
    – Peter Shor
    Jan 12 at 17:20
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From the excerpt, it seems an argument could be made that "soul" refers to some sort of ethicality - (moral) cleanliness and purity.

The mention of a psychiatrist suggests some manner of mental illness. This could be from trauma or psychological disorder. White is a colour that generally represents purity and goodness.

Additionally, the mention of God, combined with the talk of a "delousing station," suggests that we might turn to biblical interpretation.

In Exo 8:16-19, one of the Plagues of Egypt was lice. On a basic level we can assume this further supports some kind of manifestation of evil. Lice are also small and difficult to find; this suggests that the woman is plagued by some sort of indeterminate evil.

It seems overall as though the woman is struggling internally with "good and evil."

I wonder if the part about the "gut" has anything to do with biblical sayings related to consumption, gluttony, and material desire.

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  • Hi, welcome to Literature SE! Feel free to check out our tour to learn more about our site. Jan 10 at 21:43
  • Lots of thanks, but I really don't know "one" in the phrase: "How nice to say she had one" refer to which. Does it refer to "delousing station"? and can we interpret it as bible ? and the sentence "Didn't she have her share?" is really unclear to me. share in what? Jan 11 at 13:00
  • @ViserHashemi "One" here is used to refer to the "soul." And her share, as in her share in "guts." Jan 12 at 19:33

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