Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Although the story is most obviously about the birth of Charles and Katherine’s first child, it really focuses more on their marriage. Their relationship calls up the comparison with Tolstoy’s War and Peace in its movement from peace to turmoil and back again. The marriage’s precariousness is most shockingly demonstrated in Charles’s assault on his pregnant wife, which sets the stage for the story’s two central themes, struggle and redemption. The story’s primary theme is struggle—out of which joy may possibly emerge. As Katherine is struggling to give birth to their child, the more fundamental conflict between her and her husband is unfolding.

Charles’s struggle with himself is the appropriate culmination of a story that has struggle as its central theme. Originating with Nathaniel’s struggle to be born, the story reveals the struggle in the relationship between Charles and Katherine. Perhaps the reference to War and Peace overstates the difficulties that the couple experience and their significance, but the author’s quotation from the Russian masterpiece is justified by subsequent events, which enact the same unnerving, uncanny, and ultimately redemptive combination of objective menace and personal deliverance. Though Katherine is more able to offer Charles immediate emotional comfort, such a resource has to find its own season in him, has to occur naturally, as peace follows war.

Out of this central...

(The entire section is 551 words.)