Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The story invites the reader to join in the game of speculating about a road not taken in life and to share the pleasure of the storyteller by inventing an alternative outcome. There are severe limits placed on that speculation, however, for the story seems to imply that the choices made in life are mostly determined by character and by life itself—that there is little free choice. While the first version is granted the reality of action, the second is simply a daydream of what might have been; in each case, though, the outcome is remarkably similar: The mother loses her adored son and the story challenges the reader to wonder if the widow could have avoided her tragic fate.

The simplicity of the folktale in the first version gives prominence to actions that follow as inevitably as the bicycle gains momentum coming down the steep hill. The brevity of the first narrative leaves little room for character analysis; what is added are the shrewd psychological hints that suggest that the widow’s motivation is complex and deeply embedded. A comparison of the two versions reveals that the angry confrontation between the widow and her son simply uncovers a hidden well of “disappointment, fear, resentment, and above all defiance.” These impulses spring up “like screeching animals” at the sight of blood. The widow, who had appeared as a simple person with a single purpose going calmly about her business, now appears to have an ungovernable character that...

(The entire section is 439 words.)