Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Silent Passengers” deals with every parent’s nightmare: the despairing feeling, wrenching and numbing at the same time, that comes from watching over a stricken child. Every emotion that accompanies this dark vigil is delineated, from remorse and guilt and anger to the final cautious glimmerings of hope. The story’s title emerges from these feelings—Steiner and Jen are “silent passengers,” helpless and separate, in James’s recovery. Steiner is enough of an everyman to make his reactions universal, and even though Jen is described totally from the exterior, her inherent and automatic maternalism makes her an everywoman.

However, the story also treats characteristic Larry Woiwode concerns, the family being chief among them. From the novel Beyond the Bedroom Wall: A Family Album (1975) to his memoir What I Think I Did: A Season of Survival in Two Acts (2000), Woiwode’s chief subject has been the family and the fluctuating relationships that make up its dynamics. In “Silent Passengers,” the never-ending concern of parents for their children is treated. As Steiner moves through the storm of emotions that embroil him after the accident, and as he watches James’s slow and halting recovery, he becomes ever more aware of James as a person, a singular, unique, and irreplaceable creature. Steiner remembers, for instance, that James was always good at forgiveness and ready to forgive him—a trait that parents often do not...

(The entire section is 455 words.)