Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The title “Neighbors” suggests that the story is about more than the conflict between blacks and whites. Through the still young eyes of the protagonist, Ellie, it reveals the fragmentation of a society in which everyone is increasingly alone, which because of racial tension has negated the homey notion of friendly neighbors.

One indication of the loss of community in society is Ellie’s own increasing awareness of color difference. On the bus, she notices the proportion of blacks to whites. In the neighborhood, she notes that blacks and whites no longer play together once they have started school. Seeing a black car, she stops herself from laughing about its shiny blackness. Throughout the story, it is the “white people” who are threatening her little brother and her family. It is the white people who follow her family, photograph them, and write stories implying, for example, that the Mitchells are on welfare. It is the white people who write the threatening letters and who finally carry out their threats. Therefore, after the blast, Ellie concludes that white people cannot be trusted. By their own rejection of Tommy, the whites have produced in Ellie a rejection of them.

In the breakup of the neighborly ideal, the statement of the man in the Chevrolet is significant. He and his friends are ready to take revenge on the whites for anything that happens to Tommy. After the blast, after she realizes that ordinarily she slept under the...

(The entire section is 507 words.)