“Back for Christmas”, analysis of the story by John Collier

The Idea

Author and screenplay writer, John Collier liked to write weird and unique stories that would make the reader think, at the least, or be downright disturbed, at the most. His poems, short stories, novels, and screenplays all have a surreal and dark tone that draws the reader in. Between the years 1930 and 1950, Collier wrote around thirty short stories for the New Yorker. He got inspiration for many of these stories, including “Back for Christmas,” from authors such as Roald Dahl, Charles Dickens, and other male writers. This is not to say he was not influenced by women, but most of his stories take on a more masculine tone. Despite the title, “Back for Christmas” is not a Christmas story. Most of it does not take place around Christmas, and it was released in an October issue of the magazine. Through the story, the reader can get an inside look into how a sociopath or psychopath plans and attempts to get away with murder.


John Collier was born in London in the year 1901 to his parents John George and Emily Collier, and he had one sister. His father was one of seventeen children, so he could not go to college, and the pattern continued as he could not pay for either of his children to go to school past primary school, so they were educated at home. At a young age, Collier began to read and fell in love with fairytales and myths, by the time he was eighteen, and his father was asking him what he wanted to do with his life, Collier had decided to be a poet. His father supported him when most parents at the time wouldn’t, and helped Collier out as he. For the next decade, Collier lived on very little and never went to university but instead began to write poetry at age nineteen. The little bit of money

Collier did publish a number of poems, but his real acknowledgment came when he began to write short stories for the New Yorker in the 1930s. He shifted from poetry to fiction writing with his novel, His Monkey Wife. Published during the great depression, though his novel did gain some popularity, it did not gain much traction, but during his time writing this novel and a handful of others, he also wrote short stories, most of which were published in the New Yorker, and people fell in love with his writing. His short stories often had a dark or ironic tone with very memorable plots. Even if people could not remember the title, they would easily recall the bizarre storyline, cementing his place in literary history. ‘Towards the end of his career, Collier’s writing took another shift. Though he still wrote the occasional short story, he focused most of his time on writing screenplays, mostly for the money after spending eight weeks in Hollywood and making an exorbitant amount of money.

“Back for Christmas” was one of the short stories Collier wrote right in the middle of his time writing for the New Yorker. Published in October of 1939, “Back for Christmas” is one of Collier’s more popular short stories and was included in the anthology of his writings, Francies and Goodnights. Throughout time the story has also been adapted into a number of other media including plays and films. No matter how long it has been, “Back for Christmas” is a short story that’s dark and twisty tone keeps people returning to read again and again.


The short story “Back for Christmas” follows the story of Mr.Carpenter. Mr. Carpenter can not stand his wife and her constant desire to organize, so when he decides he wants to run away with a woman to America, he must first kill his wife. The story follows Mr. Carpenter as he comes up with the “perfect” plan to murder his wife and get away with it, showing all the dark twists inside his brain. This eerie and unusual look into a sociopathic murderer’s head makes up most of the story and is truly why it got so much attention. The actual murder and the after-effects come next. The murder happens swiftly, and there is not a grand moment of realization of self-discovery for Mr. Carpenter. He is completely unaware of any possible consequences for his actions and believes that he will completely get away with it. This confidence only adds to the dark feel of the story, but it is eventually completely shattered as he is called back home by the police just in time for Christmas in jail.


There are two main characters developed throughout the story: the protagonist, Mr. Carpenter, and his wife, the antagonist, Mrs. Carpenter.

Mr. Carpenter

Despite Mr. Carpenter being the protagonist, he is not one you will find yourself falling in love with or even routing to win. From the very beginning, it is clear that he has sociopathic or psychopathic tendencies that cause him to have the utmost confidence in himself and the complete and udder disregard for the value of everyone else around him. The majority of the short story is spent giving the reader an inside look to his mind as he plans, commits, and faces retribution for the murder of the antagonist, his not so beloved wife.

Mrs. Carpenter

Mrs. Carpenter is the wife of Mr. Carpenter, and unfortunately for her, also his enemy, the thing that stands in the way of what he desires. Her biggest downfall, according to Mr. Carpenter, is her obsessive need to organize things and life, specifically his life. Because she over-schedules his life, Mr. Carpenter decides Mrs. Carpenter simply must die. She has taken it too far, and he is ready to run away with a new woman to America (probably until the new woman does something to annoy him and ends up dead too.) The reader is probably far more likely to like Mrs. Carpenter, but she is Mr. Carpenter’s opponent, making her the antagonist.

This entry was posted in John Collier. Bookmark the permalink.