Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
In “Zagrowsky Tells,” Paley’s recurring character Faith appears again but in a secondary and not necessarily flattering role. The focus is on Zagrowsky, a retired Jewish pharmacist, as he sits in the park with his grandson, a black child named Emanuel.
Faith, a former customer whom Zagrowsky has not seen in years, approaches him and asks him about the boy. He begins to explain how he has come to have a black grandson, and as they reminisce about their shared past in the community he confronts her for having led a protest against him for supposedly racist practices. He denies having been racist, but Faith insists that he subtly mistreated his black customers. Faith then presses him to talk about Emanuel, and he tells the story: His daughter Cissy became mentally unbalanced, suffering attacks and even protesting his racism herself; she was committed to an institution north of the city where she became pregnant by a black gardener. Now she lives at home, still nervous and dependent, and Zagrowsky and his wife raise her son, Emanuel.
Having heard his story, Faith begins to offer advice about providing for the child’s racial identity, but Zagrowsky interrupts and angrily sends her off. Now confused and frustrated, he vents his anger on another stranger, an innocent man who approaches him to praise and ask about Emanuel. Faith quickly returns with a group of her friends and saves Zagrowsky from the bothersome stranger, then they warmly say goodbye, leaving Zagrowsky alone with Emanuel and uncertain as to what exactly has transpired.
“Zagrowsky Tells” really concerns two separate stories told by Zagrowsky. One is the story of his and Emanuel’s history, a sad tale in which much of the pain and the meaning is left between the lines. Zagrowsky is a proud and bitter man who must work hard to face the difficult truths of his life: his bigotry, his failures as a father and husband, his inability to trust or communicate with others. Thus, his story is easiest told when he relies on facts.
The other story, however, is the story he tells the reader. This account, given in the immediate first-person present, weaves together the external reality of the encounters in the park with the internal monologue of Zagrowsky’s mind. As he talks to Faith and looks after Emanuel, he is constantly digressing—observing, judging, evaluating, speculating,...
(The entire section is 980 words.)
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