Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Given its title and the narrator’s statement that his tale “if correctly told will centre on the egg,” the egg is unquestionably crucial to Sherwood Anderson’s story. As an image, the egg promotes the possibility for new life, as well as the simultaneous fragility and resilience of that life. For the narrator, however, the egg’s special power is to condemn the young possibility, the passionate promise of life, to a relentless round of decay and death. He sees this power of the egg operative in his father, whose “new impulse in life”—to leave the farm and make his fortune in the urban world—is ruined by the egg. Ironically, though, at his moment of crisis, the father preserves rather than destroys the egg. Despite his failure, he values the life in the egg just as he values the “poor little things” that he saves in the jars as a source of wonder.

For the narrator, the egg acquires ever larger significance. “Prenatally” involved not only with his father’s fortunes but also with the narrator’s own moral disposition, the egg of that night in the bedroom is inextricably linked with the innumerable eggs laid and hatched by his father’s chickens. Conjoined with the narrator’s ability to think and articulate his thoughts—a talent that his father, as a physical man, lacks—the egg gains the power of generality. It becomes for the narrator the source and symbol of the tragic cycle of life so vividly experienced on the chicken...

(The entire section is 444 words.)