Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In “He’s at the Office,” Allan Gurganus uses the figure of Dick Markham to embody a generation deeply affected by World War II. The war resonates in Markham’s life decades later, although the resonance rarely emerges into direct reference. The indirect references, however, are abundant, even in Markham’s own spoken and written words. He refers to Miss Green as being “something of a bombshell,” and, when confused about which office is his, refers to his son’s appearance as the arrival of “reinforcements” and to the incident as “a hostage situation.”

The speed of social change is introduced as an important element in the story’s opening paragraphs, which describe a walk the father and son take along the road. Markham is dressed in his 1940’s business suit, complete with the appropriate hat for the season. They encounter a youth who is impressed by the apparel: “Way bad look on you, guy,” he says to Markham. The son has to translate the phrase for his father, saying only that it was positive praise. He is unable, however, to explain the changing waves of fashion trends, toward which the man had turned a blind eye through all the postwar years.

The sadness of Markham’s life extends to the situation being depicted. Markham is a damaged man, having entered the war as a enthusiastic and energetic young man and having emerged from it as the single-minded businessperson he remained for the rest of his life. That he...

(The entire section is 485 words.)