Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Although Hansen remains the objective observer for most of this story, he reveals some of his own reactions to small-town Nebraska life. He describes the one Protestant church in town—a crisp, white building with a steeple—but he juxtaposes it to the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church that he says holds the town at bay like a German wolfhound. Generally classified as an American Catholic writer who is sometimes compared to Flannery O’Connor, Hansen obviously finds Roman Catholicism a more daunting religion than the Protestantism that the crisp white church represents. Although he makes no direct comment about religion in this story, he suggests the outward differences that exist between the two major Christian religious forces in the United States.

He enumerates in a helter-skelter manner an intermixture of some of the people and businesses in town—the insurance agency, the country coroner and justice of the peace, a tavern, a post office, a secondhand shop, a handsome chiropractor named Koch who coaches the Pony League baseball team—but these are mere impressionistic enumerations. Hansen does not comment or expand on any of them, even though he has earlier stated that the town’s citizens go to the Vaughn Grocery Store for their daily news—presumably gossip—and to the Home Restaurant for what he terms “their history class,” very likely meaning conversations in which the elderly patrons reminisce about the town and their memories of its past.

Hansen also enumerates what the town lacks—book stores, film houses, a dry cleaner, a pharmacy, a jewelry store, a piano store, a motel, a hotel, a hospital, and, perhaps most tellingly, extreme opinions and philosophical theories about Being and the soul. The story contains numerous catalogs of place-names, people, and objects all calculated to help readers evoke memories of elements drawn from their own lives. Thematically, the implication is that life is composed of a surfeit of impressions, most of them occurring in no logical sequence, as people pass through their individual existences. The totality of these impressions makes people what they are. People become the sum of what they experience.