Themes and Meanings
This ironic story of mental and emotional regeneration from the edge of insanity has psychological, philosophical, and religious overtones. It is full of ambiguous symbols, yet they are never obtrusive. Even Will’s symbolic death and rebirth, covered with the slime of cave clay, has a concreteness of detail that gives it a comic plausibility. Similarly, Allie’s ingenious recovery of a huge, nineteenth century cookstove from an old burned-out house on her property is perfectly natural, yet almost a miracle. The stove had fallen through the floor into the basement and thus was saved from destruction in a fire long ago. She takes it apart piece by piece, cleaning each part as she goes, lifts the heavy pieces with block and tackle, moves them on creepers borrowed from an auto store, and reassembles the huge wood and coal stove in her greenhouse to provide heat in the winter. The stove is almost brand new, waiting to be reclaimed from the rubbish of the past. It, too, becomes a symbol of regeneration, and the two marginally sane people fall in love in the genial warmth of its presence.
One of the implications of this story, even though it seems to satirize religious believers, is that there is a saving kernel of truth in the Christian message. Will ironically combines some of the qualities of an absurd, blundering Christ and a modern Job, harried by a disembodied devil-father until he demands an audience with the Lord. Will complains that there are only two classes of people: those who believe anything, indiscriminately but frivolously, and those like his father who believe nothing. He questions both extremes.
Will is surrounded by Episcopalian do-gooders, born-again...
(The entire section is 692 words.)