Love and Infatuation
Love is the dominant theme of the story. Alfredo loved Esperanza and she believed in his love to marry him. Alfredo thought he and Julia loved each other but had to sacrifice their taboo affair.
Alfredo still retained the flame for Julia only to learn that all this time he never understood his desire for Julia, It was more a desire for something different and unachievable that made him fall for Julia.
In holding on to his feelings for Julia he committed injustice to his marriage and first (maybe even the truer) love, his wife Esperanza. Chasing an elusive dream he never realized how fortunate he had been to have the love of his wife all along.
The entire story depicts how people misconstrue their desire and lust for love and commit ill-advised mistakes in rash pursuit of such confused perceptions.
Another thematic expression of the story is of regret and pain. Alfredo regretted never telling Julia about his engagement before he learned on her own. He even regretted not being honest to Esperanza regarding his affection for Julia.
Succumbing to social conventions and scrutiny he marries Esperanza and ends up ruining eight years of his and his wife’s marriage.
Esperanza and Julia both were caused by embarrassment and pain by Alfredo’s pretence and that in the end Alfredo is left devastated by his own recklessness and imbecility. He is further agonized by impersonal and even cold response of Julia when he visits her near the end, something he never hoped or expected.
Transience & Mutability of Circumstance
The story highlights the futility of chasing momentary gratification over true and gradual emotions. The craving for something forbidden over something moral and legitimate can lead to disastrous results.
It also touches on the theme of using patience as a tool before committing harebrained and frivolous pleasure-seeking.
Morality & Fidelity
It foregrounds the need, to be honest, and earnest in one’s actions and words. Every relationship must be built on truth and sincerity for it to succeed which Alfredo understands at the very end of the story.
Morality is addressed as time and age-appropriate quality as it keeps being defined by the time period the actions are committed. This is reflected in the thoughts about infidelity, courtship and marriage at that time (the 1900s) which are a lot different than the modern age of amorphous morality.
Social norms define what can be coined as subjective morality which varies according to circumstance and context. Of course, such moral standards are different from religious tenets which are considered ahistorical, objective and timeless.
Masculine Domination & Feminine Subservience
Alfredo is painted as a normal man who can afford to be experimental and selective with his affairs of the heart. He can have a dalliance with Julia and still end up marrying Esperanza even after keeping both women in dark.
On the other hand the female characters, Esperanza and Julia are both react softly to his transgressions. Julia never marries and Esperanza remains loyal to Alfredo in a genial but loveless marriage.
This highlights the patriarchic notion that men are considered and lauded for being the superior form of human existence and women end up being whatever ‘men’ are not.
Women always get defined in response to men and are often portrayed as alternatives and even subservient to the male protagonist.
Hence, Men are entitled to mistakes and second chances whereas women like Esperanza and Julia are not accorded such leniency while being judged and scrutinized.
The avarice and indecision of male characters are symbolized through Alfredo who keeps chasing the ghost of his own alluring desire and infatuation. In the end, it only turns out to be dying sparks of the inert star, a mirage of empty pleasure and leaves him full of contrition and heartache.