Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Madison Smartt Bell’s story is to the 1980’s and 1990’s what F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Babylon Revisited” was to the 1920’s—a lost-generation tale of loss and attempted recovery. In fact, there are many similarities. Both are about men who return to their past in order to put together the broken pieces of their lives. Both begin in a bar—Bell’s story in Henry’s and Fitzgerald’s in the bar of the Ritz Hotel in Paris—with the protagonist asking about old acquaintances. Both are about men whose lives have been shattered by addiction—Stuart by drugs and Fitzgerald’s Charlie Wales by alcohol—and both stories end ambiguously, with no indication that the protagonists will survive their past ordeals.

The theme of this story is return, the same theme that Stuart finds in the movies with which he passes time. Bell tells us that the dope smokers and street toughs in the theater look to the screen only when there are fight scenes and violence, while Stuart watches everything, even the love scenes. A metaphor for the society in which Stuart moves, the theater audience is hooked on violence, drugs, and vengeance, while Stuart looks for love, redemption, and personal survival. Natasha becomes a symbol of that love and redemption. If Stuart can find Natasha, she will no longer be a gone person. Someone will have cared enough to seek her out and find her, to touch her life, perhaps even to bring her out of the vast loneliness of herself. As...

(The entire section is 437 words.)