In this short story, Oates questions the commonly-held view that romantic love is something that brings fulfillment and is necessarily linked with marriage. This challenge to the establishment, which argues that romantic love is something that is what we need in order to give us a happy life and is a prerequisite to marriage, is suggested through Sissie's description of the marriages of those around her.
Through a discussion of her own parents' marriage and the marriage of Sue and her husband, the story argues that marriage is a binding and restricting institution that entraps those who are involved in them. If we think of Sue's marriage, we see that her husband spends his time deriding his wife whereas she makes fun of his alcoholism and his laziness. Sissie's own parents' marriage was one that was characterised by fighting and drinking. The rather fatalistic Sissie seems to present marriage as resulting in the death of romantic love. Note what she says of her own marriage to Jesse:
Like my parents' love, it will subside someday.
Love, and love's death, are therefore two key themes of this story where accepted and commonly-held views in society are lifted up and attacked through the action of the story. The text suggests the discomforting possibility that romantic love is not what we need to live a fulfilled life, and that marriage only hastens the demise of such a love.
The main subject of the story of the four summers revolves around family and relationship. Family and relationships come into being as a result of love. By mentioning the element of marriage, family and close bondings Joyce Carol Oates makes an attempt to portray and show the essence of love.