Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“I’m a Fool” is a poignant treatment of an adolescent’s inferiority complex and of his painful journey to maturity and self-knowledge. The narrator is not conscious of his feelings of inferiority, but his constant comparing of his honest, good life at the track with the false, hypocritical life of the rich and cultured clearly gives the reader insight into the young man’s problem.

In many of Sherwood Anderson’s stories, young people struggle with unconscious desires and with an inability to explain or understand their feelings. The swipe does not understand why he lies to Miss Lucy, for example; he senses only that he was foolish to do so. When he declares that he wishes he could die or at least break a bone so that he could hurt, the young man expresses his feelings but does not understand that their source is not in his “love” for Miss Lucy but in his unconscious dislike for himself, his position in life, and his lack of security about a future—a security symbolized by the man with the Windsor tie and cane, who reappears as an image of contempt in the narrator’s thoughts at the close of the story.

On another level, the young man’s companionship with Burt is an example of his naïveté about the implications of his social status. As a black man with no education, Burt occupies the lowest rung of the social ladder. As his friend, therefore, the swipe puts himself in the same position, though he invests it with the glories of romance and adventure, oblivious to his low-class family origins. He is, in effect, a fool, not because he lies but because he deludes himself about his background, his present, and his future.