Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The theme of the story is the troubled relationship between a sick father and his teenage daughter and the problems of growing up in a dysfunctional family. The stone backpack the father carries represents the burden of life that he must endure. The girl willingly tries to take it from him, which suggests that she is doing her best to understand what life is like for her father and to make it easier for him. However, the experiment does not work. The backpack weighs her down so she cannot stand upright. This suggests the difficulty, inadvisability, and even impossibility of one person taking on the burdens of another, especially when the individuals concerned come from different generations. Each must carry his or her own load.

At the literal level of the story, the girl’s father does not give her much assistance in what she is trying to do. He is distant, more interested in watching television than in trying to understand his daughter. He is also irritable, expressing annoyance at her when she knocks on the chair leg or taps the night stand in the hospital. On the one occasion when she breaks free of her father’s baleful influence and feels young and free and full of life, she feels guilty about it, as if she has no right to these emotions. This occurs when she leaves the hospital, and it shows that the girl has not yet learned how to live her own life, not her father’s. She longs for the backpack to weigh her down again.

The girl’s...

(The entire section is 437 words.)