What does the half-skinned steer symbolize in "The Half-Skinned Steer"?
In this short story, the half-skinned steer that Mero remembers his father's girlfriend telling him about is assocatiated with death. This is particularly important in this story given that Mero, throughout the tale, seems to feel that the success he has achieved in life has made him invulnerable to death, so confident is he in his own abilities and wealth. For example, when Louise first calls him, she is concerned that he is too old, at 83, to drive the long distance between Massachusetts and Wyoming. Mero's response is just to say that he will do it in "Four days; he would be there by Saturday afternoon." During the journey however, it is clear that old age is impacting Mero far more than he would like to acknowledge: he becomes confused and crashes his car, can't remember the turning to the ranch and then breaks the window of his new car, thus ensuring a speedy death. Throughout, it is Mero's arrogance in his own abilities and his fortune that prevents him from being cognisant of his true mortality. Note what he says when he buys a new car after crashing his first:
He could do that if he liked, buy cars like packs of cigarettes and smoke them up.
It is Mero's success in life and his wealth that prevents him from having a healthy respect for death. It is highly significant therefore that as he is forced to contemplate his own mortality as he realises what he has done and that he will die of exposure in the cold, he thinks again of the half-skinned steer:
It tossed its head, and in the howling, wintry light he saw he’d been wrong again, that the half-skinned steer’s red eye had been watching for him all this time.
The half-skinned deer is associated in Mero's mind with his troubled childhood, and thus it comes to be linked to death. Even though Mero has done everything he could to try and avoid death, and has thought he has achieved a certain invulnerability, death eventually finds him and he is forced to concede his own mortality.