Half-waking from surgical anesthesia, a woman named Mary realizes that she has had a breast removed. She immediately begins to imagine how this will affect her already troubled marriage. When she is fully awake, other women on the ward try to comfort her, each with a strategy for bearing up under suffering which Mary finds unacceptable because these strategies represent values about marriage, submissive gender roles, or religion which Mary cannot quite swallow.

Later, talking with her brusque surgeon and her family doctor, Mary learns that the mastectomy may not have been necessary, that the tumor was benign. At the end of the story, husband Matt hustles in to ask: "Well, baby, are you still going to divorce me?"


A major theme of the story is, who is in control of a woman’s body and what it must undergo. Because the older women who counsel Mary are sympathetic, and because Mary’s own feminist impulses are not well developed, the story’s portrayal of this issue is complicated. What Mary and the other women endure with regard to their health is also intimately bound to their marriage and family situations, which seem to make resignation inevitable and Mary’s bitter resistance a doomed project.

Note: A relevant Web site about and by artist-model Matuschka,, has been annotated in the art section of this database (Matuschka: Matuschka Archive).

Primary Source

The New Yorker


Condé Nast

Place Published

New York