Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Larry Brown’s central theme in this story is that all creatures—humans, cats, rabbits, and dogs included—want to give and experience love. Giving and experiencing love is such a difficult thing, however, that no one and nothing can do it completely satisfactorily.

The dog dies in the first line of the story. It is therefore unable to provide any sympathy or help with the human characters’ attempts at love and affection. The mother cat loves her kittens but shows her love by fetching a baby rabbit, which she teaches her kittens to stalk and kill. At first, the kittens do nearly nothing and the rabbit runs away. This happens several times before the kittens finally begin to attack it fiercely. In an act of compassion, a movement of brave existentialism, the narrator kills the rabbit.

The cats belong to Mildred, and the narrator once raised rabbits. Just as the cats slowly beat down the rabbit, Mildred is beating down Leroy. Just as the rabbit can do nothing about his situation but try to escape, only to be caught repeatedly and faced with an ever-worse situation, Leroy cannot escape his own predicament.

The underlying question that this story poses is not how to love, but whether love is possible at all in a world that is so cruelly unjust that people act without meaning or ability to gain spiritual or even physical gratification. Bad things happen to good people because bad things happen to everyone and everything. It is...

(The entire section is 418 words.)