(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The chain of love to which the title of this story alludes represents the closeness of the Mustian family, three generations of whom live in Afton, North Carolina, on the Virginia-North Carolina border. Papa, a widower, has just celebrated his birthday with appropriate family festivities. The next day he falls sick, and Dr. Sledge decides that he must be hospitalized in Raleigh, an hour’s drive away. As is customary among rural southern families, all the kinfolk go to Raleigh for Papa’s hospitalization.

Mama, Rosacoke’s mother and the widow of Papa’s son, cannot stay in Raleigh, as would be expected of her, because she is in charge of Children’s Day at the Baptist Church. She must see that responsibility through. She accompanies Papa to Raleigh, bringing with her half a gallon of custard she has made to leave with him. When Papa enters the hospital, he is offered a large corner room for twelve dollars a day, but he decides there is “no use trying the good will of the Blue Cross Hospital Insurance so he took a ten-dollar room standing empty across the hall.”

Mama promises to come back on Sunday, after the Children’s Day festivities are over, and stay with him until he can go home. Meanwhile, she leaves her daughter Rosacoke and her son Rato to look after Papa for several days.

Rosacoke often goes into the still vacant corner room across the hall to look out the window during her vigil with Papa. From the room she can see a statue of Jesus, head down, hands spread by his sides. The statue is bare-chested and a cloth is draped over its right shoulder. Rosacoke cannot see its face, but she remembers it as a kindly countenance from having seen it when they came into the hospital.

After two days, someone checks into the corner room, a man, later revealed to be Mr. Ledwell. He looks healthy and is able to walk in under his own power, accompanied by his wife and son. Meanwhile, Papa can find out little from the doctors about his own condition, and he tells them little except that he wants...

(The entire section is 836 words.)