The Door Summary & Study Guide

Magda Szabo
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The Door Summary & Study Guide Description

The Door Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Quotes and a Free Quiz on The Door by Magda Szabo.

The following version of the novel was used to create this study guide: Szabó, Magda. The Door. NYRB Classics; Tra Edition, January 27, 2015.

Written as a confessional by a woman who believes she was responsible for her older friend’s death, The Door by Magda Szabó tells a story of trust, love, and disappointment. Emerence Szeredás lived her life shrouded in mystery. Few knew the sacrifices she had made for other people. Few people were allowed to know the details of her life. No one was allowed inside her house. The only exception was the narrator. She was allowed one visit when Emerence revealed what she wanted done with her belongings when she died. Emerence shared with the narrator she was shielding nine cats inside her apartment. She trusted the narrator to take care of the cats when she died. When the time comes for the narrator to fulfill her promise to Emerence, things go horribly unexpected, leaving the relationship damaged, Emerence hurt, and the narrator disappointed in herself.

The narrator, who is not named until the end of the novel, approached Emerence when she needed someone to help her with her housework. Even before she knew Emerence, the narrator was curious about the secrets the older lady seemed to carry with her. She wanted a friendship with Emerence. For years, even while the narrator was working for her, Emerence held her at arm’s length.

Emerence began to truly love the narrator after the narrator reached out in sympathy to her after the woman whom Emerence had saved from the Nazi Germans as a baby rescheduled a visit at the last minute. After this, Emerence decided to leave the furniture she had been given by the Grossmans as well as all of her other possessions to the narrator. She also told the narrator that she did not let anyone in her house because she had nine cats living with her. She considered these cats to be members of her family and entrusted the narrator with taking care of them once she was dead.

When Emerence became sick, her end came in a bizarre way. She got the flu, which developed into pneumonia because she would not see a doctor or take a break from her work. When she finally did stay at home, she suffered an embolism that paralyzed her left leg. She did not let anyone know about this change in her health. However, her friends and neighbors finally decided that they needed to call someone to see if Emerence needed medical attention. At that point, it was discovered that she had been living in the midst of rotting food as well as her own excrement for, perhaps, weeks.

Instead of staying with Emerence when the door of her house was forced open and seeing to the cats as she had promised, the narrator ran from the house because she felt guilty for betraying her friend by coaxing her into opening the door so Emerence’s rescuers could get to her. By the time she returned home, Emerence had been sent off for decontamination by strangers and her apartment had been entered by a decontamination team. In their fear, all of the cats had run away. The narrator realized at that point that leaving Emerence alone at that point in her life was much worse than her betrayal.

Weeks later, Emerence died in the hospital after a second embolism. The relationship between the two women was never healed. After the funeral, the narrator was accompanied into Emerence’s apartment by the Lieutenant Colonel to see the suite of furniture she had inherited. Emerence had kept this furniture locked away in her front room. She had not even entered that room for years. Although the furniture is beautiful, the Lieutenant Colonel recognized right away that it was ruined. Woodworm had gotten to it. As soon as the wood was touched, it disintegrated. It was a picture of the futility of trying to store up wealth and, perhaps, a sign of Emerence’s anger with the narrator.

The story ends with Emerence’s roles in the neighborhood being filled by other women. Emerence’s friend Adélka takes over as caretaker of the apartment building that Emerence had once overseen. The narrator is able to cry only after she sees this woman sitting on Emerence’s porch, busy with work as Emerence had always been.

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