With Carmela at the heart of the story, the Unwins are clearly situated above her, in a position of relative comfort and ease; but, as the story unfolds, there are other characters who wield more influence than they (for not only can they not afford additional household help, but they lack a water pump to care for the plants on their property, among other practicalities).
Next, and closely linked with matters of class, is the question of moving across borders and navigating new political boundaries.
Soon, Carmela can no longer shop across the Italian border in France to fetch the bread which Mr. Unwin adores. A community doctor who tended to the Unwin’s twin daughters and to Carmela’s welfare along the way (his presence having only been requested for the children but his compassion urging further intervention) is ousted. And a new clergyman faces censure when he dares to speak about tolerance and pacifism.
Gallant, who spent the majority of her life living as a Canadian in Paris, was attuned to the small distinctions that characterize a community. Although the Unwins are key to this narrative, many other members of the community appear on the page, each offering a glimpse of a slightly different experience of that specific time and place. (This also makes the work feel more like a novella than a short story, but many of Gallant’s stories are expansive.)
Third, as in so many of Gallant’s works, there is a solitary female figure at the heart of “The Four Seasons”.