Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In “Health,” as in many other stories, Joy Williams assumes the perspective and describes the world of an adolescent female. She is fond of placing characters at this crucial age in order to explore the developmental crises that can emerge. As a result, her stories are often coming-of-age tales that detail the experiences of initiation, instruction, and awareness. As a twelve-year-old American girl, Pammy has witnessed the failures of familial and personal love all around her, so she looks for assurances of such love within her own family. Evidence for such love does exist: Morris and Marge demonstrate a kind of marital health that satisfies Pammy’s concerns.

Moreover, that love is made especially important in light of Pammy’s illness. The tuberculosis that rests in her young body heightens her desire for love. Although the disease does not make Pammy physically ill, it represents a potential for serious illness and possibly even death. Indeed, death shadows Pammy’s imagination and her everyday existence. Though the shadowing is made subtle through Williams’s art, it still darkens the corners of Pammy’s world—a world that she works to make safe for herself amid the perils of words and knowledge.

Pammy comes to understand that language and words are powerful, often threatening elements of one’s conscious life. Words such as “germs,” “infection,” and “cancer” can shape one’s perception of how the world operates...

(The entire section is 591 words.)