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What was the theme for the story "A Summer Tragedy" by Arna Bontemps?

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tiny04 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted December 2, 2010 at 3:56 AM via web

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What was the theme for the story "A Summer Tragedy" by Arna Bontemps?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted March 30, 2011 at 8:37 PM (Answer #1)

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This one is going to be challenging.  One of the strongest elements that is in the story is how suffering is part of what it means to be human and how all individuals possess some level of empowerment regarding their predicaments of pain.  The fact that the Jennie and Jeff Patton are both elderly, physically limited, and have endured the loss of their children brings to light how suffering is something that is intrinsic to human consciousness.  Both of them have endured a great deal.  Adding to this is the reality that their social condition will never really allow them to economically or socially possess autonomy over their lives.  Living in the deep Southern part of the United States at a time when segregation resulted in unequal and unfair treatment for people of color only adds to this burden of suffering.  However, in deciding to take their own lives, there is a level of autonomy that both seem to possess.  It is almost as if they acquire a sense of transcendence in that they are moving past their own contingent states of being in the world.  The only power that both have is over their own lives and their decision to drive the car into the water is reflective of this.  They do not embrace this as something that is a way out or an easy escape.  Jennie's tears prior to the moment and Jeff coaxing her in assuring her that this is the only way reflects that both of them understand what is being done.  Yet, they feel a need to possess power over their own predicaments and their own conditions of suffering.  In this, the theme of possessing power over one's life is evident.

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