Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Sunday Dinner in Brooklyn” is a story about the bittersweet nature of love. Concentrating on the awkward, often painful, affection between parents and their adult children, Anatole Broyard’s central theme is an exploration of how parent-child relationships evolve, rather than remain static, as children enter adulthood. Just how such relationships evolve is what interests Broyard; rarely can even the most psychologically well-adjusted families suspend their emotionally symbiotic attachment to one another in lieu of some sort of traumatically sanitized affection, and Broyard suggests they should not even if they could. Broyard’s theme also extends to encompass the pain inherent in all types of love—physical, divine, and societal—as time necessarily transforms love into longing.

The story reverberates with subtle sexual messages. For example, the narrator describes a group of adolescent girls: “All of their movements seemed to be geared to this same tempo, and their faces were alert with the necessity of defending the one prize they had against mother and brother alike” and “the uninteresting boys they would eventually wind up with, older girls between affairs, older boys on the lookout for younger girls . . . [where] they stood, Fifth Avenue dribbled to its conclusion after penetrating Washington Arch.” These sad observations show love—and society—not at its apex, but in its decline, a decline almost akin to dissipation.

Similarly, Broyard writes of religion, if not of spirituality:There was a tremendous vacuum left by God. In contrast to the kitchen-like intimacy of the church on Thompson Street—which in its ugliness succeeded in projecting its flock’s image on the universe—the spiky shells on these blocks had a cold, punitive look, and seemed empty except for those few hours in the morning when people came with neutralized faces to pay their respects to a dead and departed...

(The entire section is 787 words.)