Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Life is dynamic; ongoing movement marks either the development of the personality or its deterioration. Unfortunately, society often stresses external goals and relationships so much that little attention is paid to internal needs. Such neglect results in spiritual paralysis, unhappiness, and isolation. “Shifting” presents the lives of several characters as examples of these different attitudes toward life and different accommodations of lifestyles to the tensions between internal and external pressures.

Larry represents those who replace internal development with external movement. The narrative recounts his courtship of Natalie, his attendance at high school and a local college, a transfer to a more prestigious college, his marriage, and his current attendance at graduate school. He expects that they will have no children and that Natalie will support his plans by keeping their apartment clean, shopping, and cooking. From society’s vantage point and his, Larry’s life is a carefully planned and executed success.

Larry’s parents represent a failed relationship in which the spouses seek personal fulfillment outside themselves. Ironically, Larry’s mother is so obsessed with what she sees as her daughter-in-law’s lack of commitment to her son, she does not realize she has failed her own husband, who dedicates himself to his hobbies in order to avoid her. Larry’s father seems to need to validate his identity by taking photographs...

(The entire section is 476 words.)