What is the main theme of "A Conversation with My Father"?

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belarafon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"A Conversation with My Father" is a 1972 short story by Grace Paley.

The main theme of the story is coming to terms with grief and death. The narrator is sitting with her dying father, and trying to console him by letting him advise her on writing and storytelling, but he is fully accepting of his fate, and instead exhorts her to accept it as well; the story she writes, which she revises and then frantically tries to end happily, stands in for her father's story. His story is ending here, and he understands that there can be no happy ending, but he wants her to accept it and move on; at the end, they argue:

"No, Pa, it could really happen that way, it's a funny world nowadays."
"No," he said, "Truth first, She will slide back. A person must have character, She does not."
"No, Pa," I said. "That's it. She's got a job, Forget it. She's in that storefront working."
"How long will it be?" he asked. "Tragedy! You too. When will you look it in the face?"
(Paley, "A Conversation with My Father, users.ipfw.edu)

His apparent pessimism is rooted in his acceptance of death, while her attempts at optimism -- which come across as desperate -- show that in her heart, she has not accepted his mortality.