How does the visit to the bakery resolve some of the conflict in the story of "A Small, Good Thing"?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Some of Ann's and Howard's agonies, representing the major conflict of the story, are relieved by a trip to the bakery about a three-day old birthday cake because they find there a chance to share mutual suffering, which relieves the explosive pain in their minds and puts their suffering in a different perspective--not a lesser perspective, just a different one. The baker shares his chairs with them, his time with them, his cinnamon rolls with them and he shares their misery with them in a selfless act of true compassion. He also shares his own story with them, telling them how it feels for him to be childless and to labor everyday in a mechanical fashion to make wonderful things to eat for other people's celebrations of children's birthdays and all manner of other celebrations.

The baker also shares bread with them, dark brown bread, which when coupled with the earlier information that each Ann and Howard had been praying, produces a Biblical allusion to the breaking of the bread of spiritual communion given as a symbol of Christian consolation at the Last Supper of Jesus. The setting of the bakery also provides the symbolism of what the long night of eating freshly baked goods and talking with the baker has meant for Ann and Howard. The light symbolism is prominent as the heat lamps over the bakery goods produce the look of daylight and as daylight breaks with a pale glow through the bakery window. Light is a conventional symbol for hope, enlightenment, a new beginning, understanding, having gotten through the dark night of suffering, and forward movement in life.

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A Small, Good Thing

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