One central theme that is portrayed in Genni Donati Gunn's "The Middle Ground" is the complexity of maintaining one's heritage.
Rosalba's husband, Giulio, was a traditionalist, wanting his son to be immersed in their Italian culture even though the family no longer lived there. He insisted that his wife only speak Italian to Claudio, and Rosalba faithfully read Italian stories to their son in an effort to maintain the importance of their heritage. Yet as he grows up, Claudio becomes "more Canadian each year," and following the death of his father, there is no longer a pressing and present reminder to maintain the traditions of Italian life.
Gradually, Claudio begins speaking in English to his mother at home, and finally he refuses to speak anything else. Rosalba is caught in a conflict between honoring the wishes of her deceased husband and the culture they so greatly loved and respecting the wishes of her growing son, who wants to assimilate into the culture where he spends his time and forms relationships.
There are no easy answers for this conflict of ideals. Though Rosalba gradually relinquishes her efforts to steadfastly cling to Italian culture, there is also a sadness for the beauty which is inherently lost in assimilation. In the end, Rosalba chooses the relationship with her son over her need to cling to Italian culture. When she returns home, Claudio speaks in Italian once more to tell his mother how much he missed her while she was away. She responds in English, meeting him in a space between the two cultures which they share.