Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Graveyard Day” expresses a central concern of Bobbie Ann Mason’s fiction: how impermanence and change in modern American society affects the largely traditional lives of her conventional, working-class Kentucky characters. As with many other characters in Mason’s works, Waldeen tries to cling to the past at the same moment that her life is undergoing great changes.

Waldeen’s life reflects aspects of the popular culture that enter her home through television. For example, she compares her mutilated and mutable family with Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show,” with its many guest hosts. Although her life seems to mirror the flux and change of a larger world beyond, she is bewildered by the complexity of modern society and fears the future. Even her daughter Holly—the one constant in her life—puzzles and frightens her when she converts to a vegetarian diet (which conflicts with Waldeen’s belief that meat is necessary for health and growth) and by wearing an Indian bracelet that her father has given her. To Waldeen, the latter is a possible sign that her daughter’s loyalty to her father is greater than that to her mother.

Yearning for her family and home to be lasting and unchanging, Waldeen is searching for ways to hold onto family without “shifting” its membership in any way. On McClain’s graveyard day, however, she finally learns that she must enter the future in order to find the verities of the past. Only by remarrying and choosing someone who believes in family as she does—someone like Joe McClain—can she have the kind of family life that she craves. Only by forming a new family can she have an old one; only by being progressive can she return to a more old-fashioned way of life. Waldeen confronts the paradoxes and challenges of modern life, even as she seeks the simplicity and permanence of the past.