Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

At first glance, Fred Chappell’s “Children of Strikers” may seem to be simply a story about violence. The central incident in the plot is the discovery of an amputated foot; although the foot belonged to a doll, not a person, the children see it as evidence of an unknown adult’s fury. Moreover, the final paragraph describes the tension among labor strikers and leaves the impression that some violent action is inevitable. Such an interpretation, however, is too limited. This work is actually intended to demonstrate what modern industrial society does to nature and to human nature.

Chappell begins his story by showing how the paper mill has affected the local environment. The river has a noxious stench, the result of chemicals it collects when it flows through the mill. Its banks are black and covered with debris. How this pollution may have affected the health of the workers who live below the mill can only be guessed. Clearly this rape of the environment is not a new development, as the children do not even notice the foul odor. Ironically, to them the ruined river is a source of pleasure; the trash that it flings on the banks is their treasure trove.

Just as the mill owners are indifferent to nature, it is hardly surprising that they have no interest in the welfare of their workers. They have callously placed the workers’ houses downriver from the polluting mill, and have obviously forgotten about them. The workers’ cottages are not only small, they are also shabby and ill kept. Although the workers’ misery has been intensified by their strike, it seems probable that they...

(The entire section is 660 words.)