This story treats a theme of nearly universal interest: the "unlived life," the life a person might have had but didn't.
Attempts have been made to relate the story to Henry James' own life. Certainly there are some parallels between the expatriate Brydon and the expatriate James. But too close an identification probably lessens rather than enhances the story's significance. In particular, likening the ghost's two lost fingers with the "obscure hurt" that James experienced during his late teens may well be too reductive and simplistic.