Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

This story’s theme concerns the meaning of art: Art is essential to life itself, John Gardner believes, for it connects human beings to one another. Not only is it social in this respect but it also requires that artists practice their art with this concern in mind, controlling their instinct to be defensive and allowing their instinct to benefit humankind to predominate. There are various kinds of art in the story that serve as examples of “the art of living.” The main one is Arnold Deller’s cooking; it is meaningless unless there is someone for whom to cook. The Scavengers work, like Finnegan, to make their secondhand motorcycles function well, and they do this to cement the social bond among them: This, too, is art. Angelina is not only a work of art in that she is beautiful and attracts others to her but also an artist insofar as she actively promotes social ideals (especially, as the reader learns, when she goes to college) and functions as mediator between clashing social units (Deller, her father, and the Scavengers).

Art is based on the love for children—that is, on concern for the future of humankind. Those who are without feeling and who mechanically accept the status quo, and those who thoughtlessly hate strangers and unfamiliar customs, are against art in its true social sense. These are the antagonists in the story, and they are represented by Joe Dellapicallo, Angelina’s father. He pretends not to listen to Deller when the latter...

(The entire section is 431 words.)