On a Painted Face by A.G. Gardiner
In On a Painted Face by A.G. Gardiner we have the theme of appearance, deception, confidence, acceptance, independence, change and control. Taken from his Pebbles on the Shore collection the reader realises from the beginning of the essay that Gardiner may be exploring the theme of appearance. It is clear that Gardiner does not believe that the young girl he meets on the street should be wearing make-up. He believes it takes away from the natural beauty of a lady. Something which should not be enhanced or rather in Gardiner’s eyes cannot be enhanced by make-up. It never dawns of Gardiner that some women may prefer to wear make-up in order to boost their confidence. They may not necessarily be trying to deceive the world or to persuade the world that they still look as young and beautiful as they did in their youth. It is inevitable that everybody will age and may not necessarily be considered as beautiful as they once were. By applying make-up a woman is not only giving herself confidence but she is delaying the inevitable. The time when no matter how well the make-up is applied it will lose its effect. For Gardiner make-up loses its effect the minute it is applied to a woman’s face. Regardless of the woman’s age.
It is also possible that Gardiner is unable to accept change. At the time the story was written make-up would have been more available to women. Hence more women began wearing make-up. It is for this reason that Gardiner is noticing how many women are wearing make-up. If anything some critics might suggest that Gardiner is being unnecessarily critical of women and may be threading on being misogynistic. It is as though he is attempting to control women and how they might look. An effort that many men (including Gardiner) would lose. In reality make-up may have helped give women independence. To be allowed to decide for themselves how they might wish to look. The intended target may have been a male audience but nonetheless women were affording themselves the opportunity to appear as they would like to appear. Pleasing not only themselves but other men who do not think like Gardiner.
What is also interesting about the story is how angry Gardiner feels about the issue. Something which may lead some readers to suggest that Gardiner is aware that the world around him is changing and he feels threatened by this change or at least unable to adapt to it. It might also be important that Gardiner considers that it is okay for an actress or actor to wear make-up as they are partaking in a fantasy. Yet a woman does not have the same right to apply make-up and escape into a world in whereby she is not hurting anybody. It may also be a case that many women feel discontent with how they look without make-up. Not every woman has been treated kindly by nature. So it is inevitable that a woman for the sake of confidence would apply make-up to her face. Again in reality Gardiner considers it to be an abhorrent act yet the reality suggests it is harmless and that the problem lies with Gardiner and his inability to accept change. Gardiner also does not know how to react to young people who apply make-up. Something that is clear from the beginning of the essay. Though the young girl has not changed as a person. Gardiner treats her differently.
Gardiner also doesn’t believe that women who apply make-up to their faces or who dye their hair are in any way prettier than they previously were. Which may suggest that Gardiner believes that the women are acting foolishly or at least deluding themselves. If this is the case than it might be important to remember that a woman is again independent of a man. She is entitled to do as she pleases, wear what clothes she wishes and wear make-up if she desires. There is nothing that Gardiner can do about it and this might be the most upsetting thing to Gardiner and other men. They lack the ability to control a woman’s life. Where previous generations of women may have felt submissive to the male. For Gardiner this is not the case. The young girl who Gardiner meets is expressing a new found confidence that should be appreciated and applauded. However Gardiner remains in shock. Shocked enough that he is repulsed by the way that society has moved on. It is as though Gardiner is not only unable to accept the present but he is also finding it difficult to let go of the past and the belief that women should not wear make-up. In reality the real problem lies with Gardiner and not the women who choose to wear make-up.