Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

In “Chattanooga Choo-Choo,” an evident mutual exploitation between men and women is shown. Neither respects the individuality of the other: One woman is all women, one man is all men. This is represented through the mutual disassembly and convenient use of one another without regard for sentiment. To these characters, making love becomes a formula, a mechanical engagement.

The emphasis on makeup shows that people masquerade their real being—everything is changed through cosmetics. The people’s behavior at parties illustrates the lack of sincerity in their relationships. Convenience and opportunism are the keys to success: People are used and then disposed of when they are no longer useful.

In “Green Atom Number Five,” the apparently happily married couple find their relationship deteriorating when their well-organized material world starts to collapse. There is a sharp contrast between the couple’s sweet behavior at the beginning of the story and their savage conduct at the end.

Roberto and Marta have built their happy and harmonious relationship in part on Marta’s pretended admiration for her husband’s painting. This has been a lie: She considers his talent mediocre. Roberto goes from unconditional devotion to Marta’s generosity and love to thinking of her as a selfish woman, doubting her intentions and even her honesty after her disclosure. The nightmarish way in which the objects disappear parallels the...

(The entire section is 480 words.)