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Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The principal theme of “Absolution” is the conflict between the conventional world and the romantic imagination, a conflict that runs throughout F. Scott Fitzgerald’s fiction. Indeed, this story was originally written as the prologue to The Great Gatsby (1925), with the young Gatsby as the central character; this plan was discarded, and the story was altered and published separately. Thus, the novel informs the story, adding an extra dimension to this tale of a young boy’s coming to terms with his fantasies.

Rudolph Miller is a romantic dreamer of the type often found in Fitzgerald’s fiction. He creates for himself a daydream existence in which he is Blatchford Sarnemington and not the son of a frustrated, ineffectual railroad clerk, living in a small Midwestern town. This is a form of escape, of avoiding responsibility, or so Rudolph originally believes, for his religious tradition and his father have told him that these fictions are lies. However, the events of the story lead him to a kind of “absolution” for his sins.

Lying plays an integral part in this story. Rudolph’s first sin is to lie to his confessor about never telling lies. Next he lies to his father about drinking water, and finally he lies a second time in the confessional. Lying is conventionally seen as evil, but Fitzgerald treats it paradoxically, saying that Rudolph is a habitual liar with a great respect for the truth. Fitzgerald sees lying as part of the romantic imagination, the ability to see things greater than the common and everyday. Rudolph realizes that his lies in the confessional were a way of making life seem grander. When Father Schwartz tells him about the glories of an amusement park, this affirms that there does exist a world outside Catholic theology and Midwestern small-town life. Father Schwartz himself has great longings, but they have been sublimated to his duties as a priest. Rudolph’s confession, however, raises his feelings to an uncontrollable level, and he has a nervous breakdown—the fate of a romantic nature that has denied itself. Carl Miller has also suppressed his romantic...

(The entire section is 533 words.)