Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Pastoralia” concerns itself with the division between outer and inner worlds and with the difficulty of making the two mesh coherently. On the most obvious level, this division is expressed within the life of the actors, who not only must play their parts throughout the day but also must live on the set at night, albeit in private quarters. In private, they are able to speak and write in English, send faxes, and eat modern-day snacks, if they can get them. Throughout the day, however, they must act according to guidelines set for them by their employers. The organization controls their lives down to the smallest detail; they must even eat according to the dictates of their reenactment. Above all, whatever their internal thoughts, they are forbidden to speak them. As cave people, after all, they are capable only of grunts and gestures.

George Saunders first establishes the conflict between inner and outer worlds at a slightly deeper level, however. Within the first paragraph, the man playing the caveman considers his feeling of discontent but also states that he would never, or at least should never, verbalize the feeling, even in private, because of an injunction to think and speak positively. This injunction turns out to be an official directive from higher above in the organization of the theme park and is one of many features that tie the cave-dweller reenactment to life within the corporate cubicle.

Because the caveman actor’s...

(The entire section is 445 words.)