Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The third-person omniscient narrator observes the landscape and people of this small southern town without participating in the action or passing judgments. The narrator merely records the scenery, dialogue, and actions. Paul Montgomery, with his reporter’s eye, camera, and notebook also watches and records the actions of the people. He is a guest at the reunion, an outsider who stands on the sidelines and observes the rituals, conversations, and relationships. He appears to be interested in Elizabeth but does not communicate that interest to her. The narrator says that “there wasn’t a decade between, just the wide world.” Montgomery thus remains isolated from the group.

Elizabeth also seems lonely and isolated. A dreamy, restless young girl who waits for something to happen, she has told her family that she will love only one man but does not have anyone in particular in mind. The older women wait to see if she will be true to her word or make a fool of herself. When Johnny Calhoun singles her out for his attention, she decides, without much thought, that he is the one for her, and gives herself to him. Later she realizes that she has indeed been a fool for succumbing too easily to Johnny’s charms. In fact, there is no purpose to her decision. Unable to communicate her feelings, she simply drifts into the situation with no real commitment. She has moved out of the circle of childhood into the world of mature women but does not understand her own motives in allowing Johnny to seduce her.

The story is full of ritual. The family prepares for the reunion in the same way that they have for years. Each person has his own place in the family order and acts accordingly. The women prepare the food. They go about the ordinary business of their lives. Horace swaps lies with the men at the barber shop, Uncle Cleveland goes fishing. Uncle Billy is “out in the corn, potting crows.” Elizabeth is part of this community, part of its customs and rituals, and has passed from childhood to womanhood in the same way as countless other women.