When a cousin is scheduled for major surgery, Richard and Joan Maple volunteer to donate blood. They have been married for nine years. During their drive to the hospital, the Maples argue about Richard's behavior at a party. The intern who performs the phlebotomy is clumsy and rough. He needs three attempts to successfully insert the needle into Richard's vein.

Richard and Joan occupy beds at right angles during the procedure and their blood is taken simultaneously. While watching the blood flow from his wife's arm, Richard experiences deep tenderness for her. An elderly man arrives and chats with the intern. Because Richard has never donated blood before, the three others in the room (Joan, the doctor, and the old man) all expect him to faint, but Richard never does.

The Maples have lunch afterwards. When the check arrives, Richard discovers he has only one dollar in his wallet. He and Joan must both pay. That's how marriage usually works.


Blood is a potent symbol. It transports more than just oxygen. Blood also carries the promise of a future, a record of the past, and a link with others (sometimes relatives, sometimes strangers). In this short story, blood is described as our "liquid essence" (364) and connotes kinship, passion, and life.

The story revolves around the concept of gifts and the giving relationship. Specific gifts include love, marriage, romance, family, health, and blood. The story probes the nature of altruism. How do we decide to give of ourselves? What do we owe others?

The act of giving is transfiguring. During the process of donating his blood, Richard feels "insubstantial and gentle" (370). Sharing his blood with another human being makes Richard a greater man than he ever was yet also "less himself by a pint" (369). An analogy between marriage and donating blood is suggested in the story. Each requires giving up part of oneself for a greater purpose.


The story was first published in The New Yorker in 1962.

Primary Source

The Early Stories: 1953-1975



Place Published

New York



Page Count