Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The theme of this artful vignette is similar to that in many of Fielding Dawson’s stories: It is a portrait of the artist. Dawson finds art and artists everywhere, but especially in his own neighborhood in the Union Square and Gramercy Park areas of New York City. However, Dawson does not just write about the theme of the artist; he delves into the very creative processes that artists practice. This vignette delineates that process in several compelling ways. The narrator, who is obviously an artist or writer himself, views this scene within what he calls “the street game,” or what Dawson calls in another story “the theater of the streets.” In this scenario, an unnamed singing man becomes “The Singing Man”; that is, he becomes before the eyes of the reader a mythic figure—the bard. Ancient bards were teachers, examples, and spokespeople for their people. An ancient bard, like this figure, was in contact with higher forms of divinity—in this case Orpheus, the god of song. The power of the bard was, and is in this story, to transform the consciousness of his listeners into richer and more profound aesthetic and spiritual experiences, experiences that might release them from their narrow and provincial mindsets and permit them to become aware of—even if only momentarily—their common humanity. This is exactly what Dawson’s figure accomplishes even in the middle of a culturally diverse neighborhood. The song of the bard crystallizes that area for a brief moment, and the narrator notes the process in spite of the singing man’s forgetfulness or the “political incorrectness” of his limited repertoire. Only art can transcend these difficult and complex boundaries by the purity of its song.

Also taking place in this narrative is a demonstration of how the narrator actually creates a riveting scene out of the chaos of everyday life. This vignette delineates the process of creativity as it transforms out of virtually nothing something deeply moving.