The Shrinking Shoe by Walter Besant
In The Shrinking Shoe by Walter Besant we have the theme of ambition, promise, love, loyalty, uncertainty, hope and commitment. Narrated in the first person by an unnamed narrator that reader realises after reading the story that Besant may be exploring the theme of ambition. Geoffrey though still very young has wasted the last five years of his life seeking nothing but pleasure. This is a far cry from the naive and innocent young man who told Katie of his aspirations when they danced at the ball. If anything Geoffrey’s downfall has been the fact that he has too much money and lacks any sort of motivation to purse his dreams or ambitions. The promise once shown by Geoffrey is lost. Something that Katie becomes aware of and is disappointed by. Katie is also an interesting character as she is prepared to wait for Geoffrey though only on the condition that he stops his pursuit of pleasure and instead chases the goals he had previously set himself. If anything Besant may be suggesting that an individual who lacks drive will only live a life in which they are disappointed.
Though Katie’s loyalty to Geoffrey is admirable it may in reality be fruitless as Geoffrey appears to have no real inclination to change how he lives his life. Though if he is driven by love he may succeed so in one way Besant does allow for some hope to return to Geoffrey’s life. It may also be possible that Besant is suggesting that should a person waste their life as Geoffrey has done. They will have nothing but regrets. A person is better off working hard for their achievements rather than following the road that Geoffrey has followed. It may also be a case that some critics might suggest that Geoffrey has had things easy. If it was not for his inheritance he would have had to work for a living and may have actually achieved his goal of becoming a Statesman and also marrying Katie. What is also interesting about the story is the fact that Geoffrey equates his happiness to marrying Katie. Though he is fully aware that she is not prepared to marry a man whose main occupation is the pursuit of pleasure. If she were to do so she would only be taking a back seat in the marriage.
Similarly Katie does not appear to be swayed by the fact that Geoffrey has money. His ambitions as a youth that remain unfulfilled are more important to her. It is as though she would prefer to marry a man who has honour and integrity than somebody who seems to have more money than sense. In reality Katie does not feel as though Geoffrey has anything to offer her till he changes his ways and fulfills his promise. Though again the reader is left uncertain about how committed Geoffrey actually is to turning his life around. He may be bored with how he lives his life but the draw and pull of his wealth may be too much for him to let go of. However this is the only way to Katie’s heart. Which is admirable on Katie’s part. Many women would be pleased to play second fiddle to Geoffrey’s pursuit of pleasure and still remain committed to him. In reality Katie cannot be bought by Geoffrey’s money. While other women might be. Which may be the point that Besant is attempting to make. He may be suggesting it is better to have an honest woman in your life than to have a woman who is driven by material gain.
The end of the story is also interesting as Besant appears to be further exploring the theme of hope along with the theme of commitment. Both Katie and Geoffrey agree to wait another five years before they will see each other again. Giving Geoffrey plenty of time to change his ways. If anything there is hope that the relationship between Katie and Geoffrey may prosper. Katie also knows that despite wasting the last five years of his life. Geoffrey is a good man so she trusts that he may change and once again become the ambitious young man who was full of promise when she first met him. As to whether Geoffrey will change is difficult to say. The prize is Katie’s hand in marriage yet it may prove difficult for Geoffrey to set aside the life he has been living. If anything he has lived a relatively easy life due to his inheritance and has not had to exert himself in any way. It is of course also possible that the power of attraction that Geoffrey feels towards Katie will be strong enough to help him change his life. Though it will be a difficult task for Geoffrey. Nonetheless the reader senses that Katie remains committed to him.