Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The story’s title words, “summer” and “tragedy,” suggest its theme: the shock of recognition that the cyclical fullness of life inevitably depletes the lives of individuals, calling into question the significance and nobility of human existence.

Historically, the concept of tragedy has implied that human life is very valuable, and that suffering, especially when it results inevitably from the pursuit of happiness, reveals that human life is richly meaningful. The combination of positive and negative connotations in the title hints at the potential for such irony. The author generalizes the truth of his perception by illustrating it with an instance from the common lives of simple people, even persons whose fated suffering would typically be ignored. The universality of what his characters face makes the story broadly applicable, and the way they face their fate demonstrates the possibility of heroic action, even by ordinary people.

The suffering experienced by the characters is easily recognizable by readers as something that could happen to them or someone dear to them. The author gains the reader’s sympathy and even admiration for the tragic protagonist, Jeff Patton, by showing his affectionate goodwill, ability and dedication, mental strength, moral innocence, goodness of purpose throughout his adult life and in his final action, and pain and courageous struggle. Given his world of natural and societal forces that require...

(The entire section is 538 words.)