Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“When We Were Wolves” asks whether men convicted of every crime from murder to embezzlement can create hope and meaning for their lives even in prison. Jon Billman does not give a simple or sentimental answer to the question. Instead, he builds on Christian parables and sports clichés to develop themes of sacrifice, cooperation, and compassion in this complex allegory for the human condition, a “prison” from which death is the only escape. However, the hope of “deliverance”—from evil, pain and suffering, and death—is offered through action and faith. Here action is the ritual combat codified and afforded by hockey. By playing hockey, the group of prisoners becomes first a gang, then a team, and finally apostles, a progression over three distinct sorts of brotherhood and community. The Wolves progress from being animals to becoming men by developing a willingness to sacrifice themselves individually for the good of the larger group. Faith is brought to the men by Pastor Liverance who promises “better time” (prison argot for ways of serving one’s sentence with a degree of safety and comfort and, perhaps, relief from boredom) to those men who will play for a penitentiary hockey team.

If crime violates the social order by breaking the bonds of community and brotherhood, then acts that restore or create such bonds may be useful in restoring the convict, one convicted of a crime, to the community and harmony with it. The Wolves are...

(The entire section is 450 words.)