Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Harold Brodkey’s story is about growing up. The narrator’s sister realizes that she cannot forever play the anxious, callow, and pleasurable game of thinking about whom to choose for a mate. Eventually she not only becomes willing to accept one particular man, but she also even admits to her brother that getting married is “scary.” For his part, the narrator discovers that thoughtfulness itself can be a trap, one that can prevent the kind of intimacy—especially intimacy with a young woman—that he craves. Rather than slowly drown in envious admiration for people—such as his sister and Joel Bush—who possess charm, beauty, and admirers of the opposite sex, he learns to seek love for himself.

The narrator’s eventual realization that unhappiness is real and that it is “even likely” marks the beginning of the end of his adolescence. His next logical step is to act. Before long, rather than think about abstract matters—such as how a siphon works—the narrator takes steps toward participation in life. He learns to accept the transitory nature of happiness. After his sister announces her engagement, his small family shares hugs and kisses in the kitchen, showing a warmth that has been noticeably absent. The narrator sees this little moment of happiness passing but has the emotional understanding to participate in it before it is gone.

“First Love and Other Sorrows” is also about two symbols of success: money and beauty. The...

(The entire section is 410 words.)