Rebecca by Donald Barthelme

Rebecca - Donald Barthelme In Rebecca by Donald Barthelme we have the theme of acceptance, appearance, identity, love, insecurity and jealousy. Taken from his Sixty Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Barthelme may be exploring the theme of acceptance. Rebecca cannot accept the fact that her surname is Lizard. She does everything she legally can to change her surname however the judge is not favourable to Rebecca’s request and does not consider Rebecca’s surname to be the problem that Rebecca thinks it to be. This may be important as Barthelme through the judge may be highlighting how at times things can overpower an individual to the point in that they wish to make changes to their life when the reality is a change may not necessarily be needed. It also appears that Rebecca’s name change is more cosmetic than anything else. It will not change any aspect of her life. However it will make her feel better about herself. Though that may just be till the next problem arrives for Rebecca. Rather than accepting her surname and the fact that she is the only one bothered by it she wishes to change her name. If anything Rebecca is insecure within herself due to her surname (and the fact that she looks slightly greenish). Though again the only one who considers her surname to be a problem is Rebecca herself.

It may also be a case that Barthelme is exploring the theme of love and how at times those who are in love can turn a blind eye to the perceived defects of the one they love. Which is very much the case for Hilda in the story. Though she mentions to Rebecca that she dislikes the fact that Rebecca is slightly green in appearance. Hilda nonetheless loves Rebecca. Something that Rebecca finds hard to believe considering that Hilda went for a drink after work with Stephanie. This may be important as Barthelme may be introducing jealousy into the story and with jealousy comes insecurity. Not only is Rebecca insecure about her surname and physical appearance but she also appears to be insecure when it comes to her relationship with Hilda. It is also possible that Barthelme is pitting the individual against the system. First Rebecca loses her name change request as the judge sees nothing wrong with her name and secondly the new dermatologist has the same to say as the previous dermatologists.

There is to be no change in Rebecca’s life or at least no change that she wishes for. She is to continue living her life as not only Miss Lizard but also she has to come to accept that her skin is slightly green. It is also interesting that Rebecca feels suicidal after losing her name change request and visiting the dermatologist. So overwhelming are her feelings of being defeated that Rebecca feels as though she has no option but to kill herself. However as is often the case in life Rebecca does not have the means to kill herself (electric oven). It is also interesting that the narrator describes Rebecca as having a ’classic and sexual figure which attracts huge admiration.’ However Rebecca doesn’t see herself in this light at all. She appears to be only focused on her surname and the fact that her skin is slightly green. Rebecca sees no positives in her life.

If anything Rebecca links both her surname and the fact she is slightly green together and thinks that others must consider her to be some type of reptilian hybrid. When the truth is very much different. She is a human being with all the feeling that a human being can have. It’s just that Rebecca feels as though to fit into society she needs to change her surname and the colouring of her skin. Rather than accepting who she is Rebecca is causing herself more worry than is necessary. The judge could have allowed for the name change however he might also have a point when he suggested to Rebecca that the name Lizard ‘there’s nothing wrong with it.’ The solution for Rebecca is acceptance. As mentioned she is loved by Hilda regardless of her surname and the colouring of her skin. Should Rebecca change her surname or should she find a dermatologist that is able to treat her skin. She will still continue to be the same person on the inside. She will find something else to be insecure about, something else to fight with Hilda about and something else to get drunk about. The issue is not Rebecca’s name or her slightly green skin. The issue is whether or not Rebecca is able to move on and accept that her surname and colouring of her skin don’t define her. She has so much more to focus on in life. Her relationship with Hilda being an example. A woman who though she has been honest with her feeling about Rebecca’s perceived imperfections still nonetheless loves Rebecca.

Cite Post
McManus, Dermot. "Rebecca by Donald Barthelme." The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 23 Sep. 2017. Web.


  • I don’t recall reading this one, but i may have forgotten it. I do remember ‘I bought a little city’, that I see you’ve also discussed – one of my favourites of his. He can be a bit hit and miss, i find, but is often sublime.

    • Dermot (Post Author)

      Hi Simon. Thanks for the comment. I would agree with you about some of Barthelme’s stories being hit and miss. I’ve been reading a few of his stories lately and just can’t get my head around the point he’s trying to make in some of them.

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