For three critics whose essays are posted here on enotes, Raymond Carver's short story "A Small, Good Thing" points to the theme in its very title. If not the redemption from suffering, then at least the understanding of suffering comes from the small, but good act of human comfort and sharing. Human sympathy provides grace says critic Arthur Saltzman; "...in this bleak and cruel world, all people can do is reach out to one another," says critic Bryan Aubrey; and, understanding is given in the food we share with others, says Mark A.R. Facknitz.
In spite of the deceptive simplicity of Carver's minimalist style, there is in "A Small, Good Thing" a psychological drama of the human condition. Alone in their misery when their son Scotty, who is struck by a car while he is on his bicycle, dies unexpectedly, Ann and Howard Weiss suffer in different rooms. When the baker continues to call them about the birthday cake that they did not pick up, they decide to confront him by driving to the shop. When Ann angrily tells him what has happened, the baker realizes his callousness and asks to be forgiven. Drawing chairs to a table, he asks the Weisses to sit and share some freshly broken bread with him. Together they break bread and share in their suffering. Thus, the bonds of suffering bring them together in communion with one another. Their understanding is "a small, good thing."