Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Jack Matthews’s simple story of an old man’s efforts to get his wife’s body to the undertaker and have her officially declared dead does not appear to have any real conflict or thematic significance. It seems to move along matter-of-factly with the sole purpose of describing how Melvin takes care of things when his wife dies. Because the story is told in such a flat, unfeeling way, the reader may think that the story has no real point, but its purpose is to explore how grief goes beyond language’s ability to express it.

“On the Shore of Chad Creek” is about facing death. This is the underlying relevance of the undertaker’s seemingly irrelevant remark when Melvin tells him that his wife said that she felt funny before she went to sleep last night: “’They say that a lot before they go,’ Wilkie said. “Yes sir, they say they feel funny and brother that’s it!” The fact that Melvin’s only encounters in the story are with the undertaker and the doctor, who deal with death matter-of-factly every day, further emphasizes this theme, especially when Melvin plaintively says after the doctor leaves, “Hit just don’t seem like enough some how,” and the undertaker replies, “Oh, it’s enough, all right.”

Melvin’s sense of loss is not communicated by his sorrow at his wife’s death, but by his memory of her when he first married her and earlier, when she was a little girl with pigtails. When Melvin says that when he...

(The entire section is 452 words.)