Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Because readers have no guidance from Amy Hempel’s narrator as to what to think about anything or anyone in this narrative, they must become more involved with the story than is typical in order to come to a conclusion. Although there are no explicit or overt explanations or evaluations, many clues are embedded in the text. The story appears to be about relationships, specifically those of a divorced father with his children, in whose lives he has been only marginally involved. It is no small matter that the title of the story coincides with the epitaph for the father’s tombstone or with the general connotation of what it means to have a “quiet day” with or without others. Normally quiet time is set aside for some kind of healing, for getting in touch, for listening to inner voices, or for trying to hear better what others are saying. In this story the day is far from being a quiet one; there is much talking going on. The quietness appears to apply to a lack of direct communication and to the soundless situations of a dismembered family and dislocated relationships.

The story also appears to be about the many ways people communicate various feelings without ever speaking the exact words, as well as how people rarely say what they really mean or really feel, but tend to fall into ready phrases, expected responses, innuendo, or euphemism—say it any other way but do not say it outright. The most obvious example of this latter theme lies in the joke...

(The entire section is 520 words.)