What is the theme and purpose of the story?

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lynnebh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This story is a fable about the purpose of life, the vanity of earthly greatness, ambition, pride. The guest has lofty ambitions for his life, not because he wants to improve mankind, but because he wants to be remembered. Ironically, the reader discovers that he has really done nothing remarkable and yet, he makes comments that imply that the family with which he is visiting is wasting their lives. The guest is a wanderer and has no connection to humankind whereas the family, although perhaps not doing anything remarkable to ensure that they are remembered when they pass on, nevertheless are in community with each other. They enjoy each other's company, they like to sit by the fire.

The major irony of the story occurs when they are all destroyed by the landslide, yet nothing remains of the ambitious guest. What does remain are small, poignant tokens of the family that used to live in the house. These tokens leave the reader to ponder what is really important in life - living it while you can, doing something to improve the lives of those left behind, or going around telling people how great you are and how insignificant everyone else is.