Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
In “The Stone Boy,” the roles of the various members of the family assume important dimensions. The father, clearly the stereotypical masculine presence, takes care of those activities outside the house. Mother and daughter are shown only tending to household tasks. Eugie, almost a man, has begun to assume many of the responsibilities of the father. Arnold’s ties are still more to his mother, though he envies Eugie and unknowingly attempts to assert dominance. Arnold’s attachment to his mother, his continuing need for her, and his subconscious desire to relate to her are as much a motivating factor as is Arnold’s need to assert dominance. That Arnold feels a special sympathy for his mother is made evident by his knowledge of her intense discomfort as she tends to the canning in the kitchen where the heat from the wood stove would be almost unbearable. Sometimes, the reader is told, Arnold would come from out of the shade where he was playing and make himself as uncomfortable as his mother was in the kitchen by standing in the sun until the sweat ran down his body. The fear caused by Arnold’s desire to emulate his father and older brother, while the nine-year-old is still too young to assume the role, causes Arnold to seek out his mother, especially so that he might express his fear and his hostility and receive from her solace and understanding.
The apparent need of a son to assume the role of patriarch, even if it means revolting against the...
(The entire section is 496 words.)
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Death is one of the foremost themes in ‘‘The Stone Boy.’’ It is expressed literally in Eugie’s death, but this accident brings about a series of metaphoric deaths. For Arnold, Eugie’s death represents not only the physical loss of his brother but also of his male ideal. Eugie’s loss means that Arnold no longer has a role model upon which to base his own life. The death of Eugie means the death of the young man that Arnold would have become.
By the end of the story, Arnold undergoes a metaphoric death of his own. As he realizes that his family has no faith in him and seems only to want to shut him out, he withdraws, not simply from his family, but from humanity in general. In essence, by the end of the story, Arnold has lost his very soul. The theme also can be found in examination of the family itself; by the time the story concludes, the family truly no longer exists. Instead, each member functions apart from the others.
As a number of critics have pointed out, much of Berriault’s fiction centers on how humans fail one another. As Molly McQuade wrote in Chicago Tribune Book World, ‘‘Every so-called fault deforming a character seems to link up with another fault in someone else, complicating and completing the moral neighborhood they share.’’ In Arnold’s eyes, his family has failed him by refusing to forgive his reaction to Eugie’s death, however out of place they may...
(The entire section is 846 words.)