(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Belmont Weiss returns from Paris to a world changed by the effects of the Depression. Unable to fit into the changed situation among friends whose hopes have been “wholly modified,” he takes it easy by enjoying long breakfasts, during which he listens to his mother’s stories. The story of the Baumann family is told to him one morning as his mother irons.

Mr. Baumann, a cultivated immigrant, was known for his sociability, his appearance, and his ease of living. With little effort, he sold insurance policies, consoled the grieving at funerals, and accumulated a comfortable income from the premiums. His life was leisurely. The family often took four vacations a year, often entertained, and indeed became celebrated for their Sunday evening gatherings, where immigrants shed the loneliness of people who have been cut off from the old country ways and then thrust into the “immense alienation of metropolitan life.”

As his mother irons, she tells Belmont that Mr. and Mrs. Baumann “shared so many interests that there was naturally a good deal of antagonism between them.” Other people might regard her husband as a sage, but Mrs. Baumann sought out the rabbi, read Sigmund Freud and Henri Bergson, and relished all things and people Jewish. Their children, Belmont is told, reflected the attitudes of their parents. The oldest, Dick, moved from job to job but made little headway, except by marrying a successful beauty-parlor owner, Susan. When...

(The entire section is 544 words.)