Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

This story invites the reader to share Faith Darwin’s perspective. She lives apart from the men in her life, emotionally, religiously, and politically. Her children are more central to her daily life, and she devotes much time and energy to caring for them. This is a woman’s world, one that the men in this story take for granted and perhaps do not fully appreciate or understand. Similarly, when Grace Paley first started to write, she worried that no one would be interested in reading about women at home with their children. Faith seems at first to exist in the margins of Paley’s story, keeping her opinions, which are far more astute and mordant than the men suspect, to herself.

By the end of the story, readers realize that the seemingly marginal Faith has her own purposes, which are just as important as those of the men in her life. This image of marginality applies not only to Faith’s identity as a woman but also to her identity as a Jew. As is characteristic of Paley’s writing, this story mixes the personal and the political. Faith celebrates herself not only as a wife and mother but also as a Diaspora Jew, described as “a remnant in the basement of world affairs” or “a splinter in the toe of civilization,” images of marginality that contain a subversive moral integrity; the final image of the Diaspora Jew is that of “a victim to aggravate the conscience.”

“The Used-Boy Raisers” introduces Paley’s most durable character, Faith Darwin, who figures in many of her other stories. Her name, like the sardonic nicknames of her two husbands, invites interpretation. Her first name, Faith, suggests her Judaism. Unlike the men, who are associated with fixed geographical spaces, Faith affirms Judaism as a religion of seasons and days, and a religion that prevails in the home and through the offices of the mother. It is significant that this story takes place on a Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, which Faith will observe through the celebratory meal that she is planning. During her conversation with Livid and Pallid, she admits that she lost God a long time ago, but she still has faith, that is, her own identity as a Jewish woman. Her last name, Darwin, suggests her capacity to adapt and survive in changing or challenging circumstances.