Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Aunt Munsie’s story is in many respects a tragedy involving her loss of a clearly defined role and her loss of status as an African American in a southern culture dominated by prominent white families. The high point of her life was the years that she spent raising the Tolliver children after Mrs. Tolliver died. Although she was an illiterate old woman, she persevered and raised the children with affection and discipline. She was proud of them, particularly Thad and Will, who became successful professional men in Memphis and Nashville. She was more than their nanny; she felt that she was almost a mother to them.

Because of her bond with the Tollivers, she thinks that she has achieved an elevated status in the town. She believes she has the right to ask about Thad’s and Will’s welfare and their future plans. Her constant refrain, “What you hear from ’em?” is meant to remind people of that bond. Until she is forced to get rid of her pigs, she is in charge of her destiny and has a place in the social geography of the town.

Long after Thad and Will left Thornton, Aunt Munsie harbored the hope that they would return for good. Their return would signify a recognition that her role as surrogate mother is vital and meaningful to them. Their return would mean that they respect and honor her, and still need her maternal care. When she learns that the Tolliver men have conspired to take away her pigs, she is grief-stricken. Realizing they...

(The entire section is 475 words.)