Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
“A Chain of Love” is a gentle story whose characters are the same people Reynolds Price wrote about in his novels A Long and Happy Life (1962) and A Generous Man (1966). Essentially, the story is about continuity from generation to generation, about family ties and family closeness. The Mustian family gathers to help Papa through an illness that could be his final one. They are with him as much as they can be.
The Ledwells are quite shadowy people compared with the Mustians, as the reader sees them from Rosacoke’s vantage point. She observes them from the shadows. They are unaware that she is observing them, and they never really come to know the sympathy she feels for them. From her standpoint, they are lonely and alienated because they are living as newly arrived strangers in a place where family ties are paramount.
Price never reveals the Ledwells or anyone else in the story from any point of view other than Rosacoke’s, and he successfully works within the limitations of this point of view. Rosacoke’s innocence and naïveté color everything in the story, and soften the realities substantially. The reader is shown that not all the relatives in Papa’s sickroom have Rosacoke’s innocence. Milo is planning to duck out of the sick man’s room to take his wife to a Chinese dinner and movie. He wears a necktie that lights up in the dark to read, “Kiss Me in the Dark!” Rosacoke, in her innocence, is learning to deal with death, which she has experienced before, but which she is now experiencing for the first time as a somewhat mature person.
Price has Rosacoke ponder questions relating to death. Mr. Ledwell was said to have been clinically dead but his doctor revived him. Rosacoke remembers the time the Phelps boy fell off the dam at Fleming’s Mill and almost drowned. He, like Mr. Ledwell, was dead until they revived him. Rosacoke wonders if people who go through that experience know what lies on the other side. She suspects the Phelps boy knows, but he will not tell, saying that what he found out when he was dead for half an hour is between him and Jesus.