Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

On one level, David Madden’s “No Trace” is about father-son relations, the Vietnam War, friendship, and the 1960’s. All of these give way, however, to the one overriding question: What does one do with the truth, if the truth is terrible and will not set one free?

Ernest learns that nothing about his son, since his departure to college some four years earlier, has been what he thought. Gordon had become caught up in the alternative lifestyle of the 1960’s, playing with drugs, participating in wanton sex, protesting for civil rights and against the Vietnam War. Moreover, he developed a strange relationship with his roommate, perhaps both operantly and covertly homosexual. The father is shocked that his son would sleep in his own vomit and semen, as well as the missing roommate’s bed; that he would keep his mother’s letters but not his own; and that he would kill himself and others intentionally with a grenade in some sort of misguided statement against the war and, presumably, his father himself.

At issue here is far more than merely the matter of civil protest. Setting off the grenade has nothing to do with the war itself, although it is arguably connected to Jason and Jason’s involvement in the Vietnam War as a soldier there. Jason had become not only Gordon’s roommate, but also his best friend, bosom buddy, and virtual family member—in short, the closest person in the world to him. Jason had been transformed from peace...

(The entire section is 514 words.)