Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Truth or Consequences” is a story about recognitions, about the discovery of truths and the consequences of actions. It appears to be a story mainly about Car Jones, but it is in fact more about the narrator and her recognition of the truths about her life. The narrator acknowledges at the end that she has no clue about the inner workings of Car’s mind, or even about his background. To her he had merely been one of the truck children, greeted by his classmates “with a total lack of interest; he might as well have been invisible, or been black.” Of course, Emily does take some interest in him, but she acknowledges, at least in retrospect, that she “was having a wonderful time, at his expense.” She won her golden boy, Harry McGinnis, because Car’s attention made her visible to her peers. She says she giggles in a “silly new way” when McGinnis asks her out because she has entered the world of normality and left behind Car’s “dark and strange” world. She recognizes that her entry into the world of the “popular girls” was effected by her use of the nearly invisible Car.

After Emily is kissed by Car, she dashes from the lot; years later, she reflects that she “was learning conformity fast, practicing up for the rest of my life.” She has lived what she considers a normal life for a woman of her age: three children, three abortions, and three marriages to increasingly “rich and prominent” men. Her obsessive interest in Car Jones suggests her disillusionment with the “normal world,” with the consequences of her actions that were predicated on conformity, on becoming one with the crowd. She is fixated on Car and on her reinvention of him because he represents the world of rebelliousness, of saying no to the “proper course,” whether it be a fraternity that he was invited to join or a career path that would have let him be one of the “rich and prominent” men.