Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“City of Boys” is marked by a continuing sense of despair. The narrator states over and over that nothing ever changes, that all is fated to continue in exactly the same way as it always has. However, at the same time, she repeatedly states that “rent control will not last forever in New York,” the implication being that sooner or later she will lose her home and her lover.

There is not a single pleasant setting in the entire story. The apartment in which the principal relationship takes place has roaches, rats, and other vermin. The clubhouse is even more rundown. Even Inwood Hill, which in reality is a beautiful stretch of woods, one of the few examples of relatively untouched nature in Manhattan, is used merely as a setting for sex.

The young narrator is clearly uncertain about her own sexual urges. She is obsessed with boys, but all the while describes her female lover as the only person in the world who matters. The sexual acts are never described explicitly, but one is given the impression that they are never really satisfying. It also appears that no relationships can ever be truly permanent.

The characters are never really happy or pleasant to others. The older woman tries to dominate the younger one, and this seems more important to her than any real sense of love. It is clear that she has had other sexual relationships, male and female, and that the present one is neither the first nor the last. The boy the...

(The entire section is 433 words.)