Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Susan Minot’s story, which does not have a conventional plot, derives its meaning from the rich collection of details depicting the Vincent family. Carefully selected and skillfully expressed, these details work together to describe various family members and, most important, the habits and rules of the family’s interaction. The occasion for the family gathering is an annual holiday, and this, coupled with Minot’s use of language and verb tense, suggests that readers are witnessing a ritual that has occurred before and will come again.

The economical, minimalist style used to narrate the story of the Vincent family’s holiday communicates more about the characters than an initial read might suggest. The story reveals the peculiar habits and roles of several family members: Churly is argumentative, Rosie is patient and a peacemaker, Sophie is pensive and sensitive, and Pa’s senility is filled with anger. The details about the family members and snippets of their conversation also provide a blueprint for the family’s dynamics—who talks and who does not, who has the power to stop a conversation, how the three generations interact. Minot reveals that much of the power in the family now resides in Ma, which contains implications for Pa’s deep anger. Also, the aunts and uncles function fairly rigidly within the confines of the family blueprint; but Churly challenges it aggressively, Delilah questions quietly, and Sophie studies it. Ma’s retort at the end of the story is another breach of the family contract; the unexpected comment throws the family so effectively off-center that they are unable to respond.