Gay’s “The Mark of Cain” vs. Allison’s “Compassion” Stories

Pages: 2
Words: 786

The short stories The Mark of Cain and Compassion are dramatic plots that relay the family lives of the characters. These stories are realistic fiction and demonstrate the struggles and twisted relationships between people. The Mark of Cain, told from the perspective of a woman, recounts her romantic and sexual relationship with two twin brothers, one of whom is her husband. Meanwhile, Compassion tells the story of a broken family struggling over the slow and painful death of their cancer-ridden mother and reconciling the choices and relationships of the past. This paper will examine the similarities and differences between these texts.


The first similarity between these stories is that they both recount instances of abuse, particularly of a man towards young women. In Gay’s story, the actual husband, Caleb, is extremely physically and emotionally abusive to the protagonist. He abuses her well-being, deceives her, hits her periodically, and rapes her, which the woman accepts, wanting to spend time with the other twin Jacob (Gay). In Compassion, the stepfather Jack is a drunkard and emotionally abusive towards the mother, as described by the daughters, but the actual beating is directed towards them when they are young. This prompted them to have a tight relationship with their mother, who watched it happen, and they left the house as soon as possible (Allison).

Another similarity is the presence of broken families. Gay’s story has a twisted interaction where the twin brothers openly switch their lives, including romantic partners, but despite their differences, they love each other more than ever. It is known that they were both abused by a murderous alcoholic father, but since his death, they have shifted his memory into someone who was good. Meanwhile, Allison’s story has the family of a selfish, careless mother, a former alcoholic and abusive stepfather, and three daughters who rarely got along even as adults and had drastically different worldviews. Finally, the similarity between the two stories is that they share an ending filled with dramatic irony. In The Mark of Cain, the protagonist finds out that she is pregnant with twins, ironic because 1) her twisted relationship with the two brothers, and 2) the children could be any of theirs (or even both) since she was raped by her husband and then presumably had sex with the other brother (Gay). This places the woman in a highly ironic and ethically unique position. Meanwhile, Compassion has the ending that as the mother was dying, a topic that has strongly divided the family for years, had now brought them together under common grief. Even the abusive Jack agrees to sign the DNR papers and is accepted by the sisters in coming together, the mother’s death “setting free” the anger and bad blood between the family members (Allison 219).


The short stories differ in their form. The Mark of Cain is a short-form, almost anecdotal tale with virtually no dialogue present. It is a short descriptive story recounting events. Meanwhile, Compassion is a more detailed, long-form short story. It has a significant portion of dialogue and interaction between characters, which contributes to their personality building, and only some of the story is a descriptive narrative. Reading both stories is a significantly different experience and offers different perceptions.

Another difference is the tone of the stories; although they are both dramatic, there is a difference in tone. Compassion seems to be much darker in tone; it deals with death and focuses on a wide variety of serious issues. At the same time, the tone is very reminiscent as the protagonist recounts past experiences, and at the same time, ‘compassionate’ as there is a transition and growth of characters. Meanwhile, Gay’s story has a tone of almost indifference; the protagonist is in so much misery and pain that she has chosen not to feel anything. It is both emotionless and, at the same time, filled with negative feelings, such as disgust and avoidance, that seem to be the key given the story of the plot. The final difference, having already been touched upon, is the trajectory of the characters. In Mark of Cain, the characters seem to be degrading as the story goes on. They become more unethical in the eyes of the reader and seem to have no regard for the consequences, well, until the protagonist finds out about the pregnancy. These characters are narcissistic and lack self-control, pursuing actions that do not resolve the situation. Meanwhile, in Compassion, the characters seem to experience growth, albeit through their own differences and challenges. They demonstrate care for their mother and each other in their own unique ways, and in the end, they are brought together as a family, reconciling many of their differences.

Works Cited

Gay, Roxane. “The Mark of Cain.” Elle, Web.

Allison, Dorothy. Trash. Penguin Books, 1988.