John Collier’s very short story “The Chaser” is about a young man who’s desperately infatuated with a woman who’s indifferent to him, and what he does about it. It’s a popular short story for students.
Collier wrote many entertaining and interesting short stories that can be found in the two volume Fancies and Goodnights. (Amazon)
This analysis of “The Chaser” starts with a summary then looks at themes.
“The Chaser” by John Collier Summary
Alan Austen nervously locates the door of a shop on Pell Street. He enters a sparsely furnished room containing some shelves with about twelve bottles and jars on display.
Alan hands a card to an old man in a rocking-chair. The old man greets Alan by name. Alan asks about a mixture that has extraordinary effects. The old man says none of his stock has ordinary effects.
He shows Alan an undetectable poison he calls a glove-cleaner or a life-cleaner. Alan is definitely not interested in this product, which is just as well, as it costs five thousand dollars.
The old man assures Alan the love potion is not as expensive. If a customer is happy with a purchase, they will come back again, even for something much more expensive. He only mentioned the first mixture because he sells what Alan is interested in, a love potion.
The old man explains the effects of the love potion—it’s permanent and will make Alan her sole interest and turn her off the company of others. She’ll want to know everything about him, care for him, and worry about him. Alan is overwhelmed with joy.
Her faithfulness will be guaranteed and, what’s more, if Alan should stray she would forgive him, although he’s adamant that won’t be necessary.
Alan asks the price. The old man takes out a small vial and says it’s just one dollar. Alan is grateful. The old man says his customers come back later in life when they’re doing better financially and want something more expensive. Alan takes it and thanks him. They say their goodbyes.
(End of “The Chaser” by John Collier summary)
“The Chaser” Theme Analysis: Obsessive Love
Alan is obsessed with Diana to the point that he’s willing to employ unethical means to win her affection. The questionable morals and possible illegality of using a love potion are acknowledged by the secrecy of the shop—it’s hard to locate and only takes customers by referral, as implied by Alan’s visit. He’s also very nervous about the meeting.
The potion’s effects provide further evidence to support the theme of obsessive love. It induces in its recipient devotion, adoration, jealousy, and a general monomania focused solely on their partner.
The implied result of this kind of love—that Alan will be driven to murder by Diana’s devotion—makes the danger of it clear.
“The Chaser” Theme Analysis: Superficial Love/Infatuation
Related to the above theme is the issue of superficial love, which can be seen in Alan and Diana.
Alan isn’t attracted to Diana as a complete person. Her personality can be drastically altered without it making any difference to him. What will remain the same is her looks, so it’s reasonable to assume they’re the driving force behind his overwhelming feelings. Rather than being disappointed and abandoning his plan on hearing that the potion will completely change her personality, he’s joyful. It seems that her personality, her “spiritual side” as the proprietor puts it, isn’t a part of the attraction for him.
The shop keeper makes a comment that affirms this theme as well. He says that if someone had five thousand dollars, “they would not need a love potion.” In the old man’s experience, having money will attract a woman, showing the superficiality of love goes both ways. It can’t be said for certain that this applies to Diana, but it’s implied fairly strongly.
Both of these situations demonstrate a superficial form of love. While the traits—good looks and money—are undoubtedly desirable, they’re insufficient on their own. There are many other important qualities that would contribute to a lasting and satisfying love, but none are mentioned here.
Irony in “The Chaser”
Here are some examples of irony from the story:
- Alan wants Diana as she is now but is also willing to completely change her.
- The old man sells love potions cheaply to create a market for his expensive poison.
- The description of the potion’s effects makes Alan joyful when it should make him apprehensive and disappointed.
“The Chaser” Analysis Questions
1. What is the significance of Diana’s name?
Diana is also the mythical goddess of hunting. Alan is hunting for Diana, but not in a way that would get her blessing.
2. What does the title mean?
There are at least three meanings. Firstly, Alan is “the chaser” in that he’s pursuing Diana and hasn’t caught her yet. Secondly, the love potion that Diana will soon consume will cause her to chase Alan, although he’ll be easy to catch. Third, eventually the potion will be followed by a “chaser”, the undetectable poison.
3. What is implied as Alan and the shop keeper part ways?
Notably, they don’t say their farewells in the same words. Alan says “Good-bye”, implying finality, that this is the last time they’ll see each other. The old man says “Au revoir”, French for “goodbye”, but which literally means “to the seeing again” or “until the reseeing”, implying he knows that Alan will be back for a more expensive mixture. (another example of irony)
I hope this summary of “The Chaser”, analysis and look at themes was helpful.