Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The meaning of life and fate, against a person’s responsibility for his or her actions, is the central focus of the story. The narrator reflects on the sort of person he has become, someone willing to permanently injure Hey Baby and someone more than willing to kill people in Vietnam. A central image is that of the pugilist Theogenes, a Greek fighter described as the “greatest of gladiators.” In ancient times, competitors were strapped to huge rocks and fought to the death. The narrator describes a statue he guesses might be Theogenes. After carefully describing the musculature and the physical damages from boxing, he turns to the man’s expression, one of “weariness and philosophical resignation.” The narrator wonders if the fighter would be happy as a nobody, a farmer, and if the fighter is proud of who he is.

The story illustrates the many twists and turns life can have. The narrator chooses to participate in the Vietnam War as part of the infantry, but he runs and hides and spends his first battle trying to clean his rifle and attempting to rinse his eyes. He tells lies, claiming to have been the hero his friend Jorgeson actually was. He has to acknowledge to himself that he has talked Jorgeson into following the narrator’s path rather than pursuing his dream of being an artist. The narrator has to acknowledge that he took a terrible beating in a boxing match just to impress his friends.

The narrator also reflects on how his...

(The entire section is 487 words.)

The Pugilist at Rest Themes

The Masculine Code

The story presents an ideal of manhood in terms of toughness and aggression. In the narrator's world,...

(The entire section is 704 words.)