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The dominant theme of the story is one of suffering. Jeff and Jennie endure a life of suffering. To struggle in the condition of the South for two elderly people of color is embodiment of struggle in its own right. At the same time, for parents to see the deaths of five children in their adult years is another form of suffering in how a parent outlives a child. It acquires a greater level of significance when they live into adulthood and to see none of them progress past a certain point. The element of physical suffering is another example of the dominant theme in Jeff's and Jennie's lives. Consider Bontemps description of their physicality. Jeff's face is seen as "a hideous toothless grimace” while Jennie is described in terms such as "wasted, dead-leaf appearance." Such detail is matched by the physical conditions of his strokes and her blindness. They are both experiencing a level of physical suffering in which there does not seem to be any alleviation in the future. This becomes where the decision to drive the car into the Mississippi is the only way out of this intense level of physical and emotional suffering.
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