Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

This is the story of a young man’s coming to consciousness of his rights and responsibilities. Richard Rive is focusing on a defining moment in Karlie’s life, and the reader knows that the protagonist’s life will never again be what it was before this fateful day. Whether he is treated badly in jail or not, he can never go back to his little village as the naïve fellow he was that morning. He has become a man.

The disturbing words that Karlie hears on his first visit to the city are described by Rive as if the young man had wandered into a church and had overheard a foreign revelation that was completely unexpected and totally liberating from his passing understanding of himself and of his possibilities. The notion that he might have all the rights of a white man seems, at first, far too good to be true, as if the political message was the good news that the word “gospel” actually means. Rive describes the young man as a young convert who is filled with the enthusiasm that follows from entrance into any new belief system. His somewhat precipitous action that soon follows the speech seems perfectly natural if viewed in this religious context: Karlie wishes to put into practice the invigorating message that has changed his interior life.

It is as though Karlie has been given a new set of eyes, and he views the world around him in much different terms. Those who had once seemed bigger than life—his elders in the village and,...

(The entire section is 521 words.)