Analysis

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 315

“Communist” is a 1987 coming-of-age short story written by Richard Ford. It has a first person point-of-view narration, and the narrator is forty-one-year-old Les, who recalls his first hunting experience with his mother, Aileen, and her partner, Glen. The story was praised for its detailed imagery and Ford’s masterful way of switching the narration between the older Les and the younger Les.

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The older Les hasn’t heard of his mother in quite a while, but he vividly remembers the day her boyfriend took him goose hunting when he was only sixteen years old. That day, Les saw Glen Baxter, a communist and a man whom he sees as a father figure, accidentally shoot a goose he was not aiming for. Glen refuses to kill the goose and end its suffering, as he believes that suffering and pain are an important part of life and they must be experienced by everyone. After that, he shoots the goose four times. Thus, Les learns a valuable lesson.

Simultaneously, he learns that his mother is a woman who puts her son before everyone else but also believes that he might turn out to be a failure like his late father. She is a woman who has suffered in her relationships and seems to pursue them for Les’s sake instead of for her own pleasure and emotional fulfillment. Thus, Les grows a bit closer to his mother and starts to hold her in higher regard.

With “Communist,” Ford tells us that one doesn’t need to be old and experienced in order to be wise and intelligent; we are constantly learning, no matter our age, which is our way of developing as a person and building our character. Ford also explores the themes of love and family, as he showcases the relationship between Les and his mother, and Les and Glen, but also that between Aileen and Glen.

Style and Technique

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 321

Ford has been criticized for giving his characters too much insight, too much room to muse and find meaning in those moments that remain memorable through their lives. Critics of his fiction claim that the men who typically populate his stories are a luckless breed of Westerners who should not possess the lyrical impulses that drive his stories. They argue that the author imposes his own voice on his narrators, and that men such as Les—who come from broken homes and marginalized backgrounds—could not possibly be as sensitive and articulate as Ford depicts them. It is true that Ford usually gives his characters dialogue that means something—words weighted with dramatic implication. Ford defends his method of meaning-filled conversation, however, by explaining that he is not trying to write dialogue that “is actual to life. I’m trying to write dialogue that refers to life.” He adds that he does not think readers need to read stories merely “to have life rehashed. Stories should point toward what’s important in life, and our utterances always mean something.” Ford jeopardizes credibility when his characters step outside the boundaries of their emotional landscapes and go beyond the expectations of the reader; however, the risk is rewarded with an intimacy that would not exist if Ford refused to let his narrators speak. When Les reflects “I don’t know what makes people do what they do, or call themselves what they call themselves, only that you have to live someone’s life to be the expert,” the simple wisdom of his words seems to be merited by the experience that he has lived through. He is forty-one years old at the time of his telling, looking back at a time when he was sixteen. He has had twenty-five years to think about the events of that November day. It is not at all surprising that he has learned a few hard lessons.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 90

Ford, Richard. “What a Sea of Stories Tell Me.” The New York Times Book Review, October 21, 1990, 1, 32-34.

Gray, Paul. “Trials of a Transient Household.” Time 135 (June 4, 1990): 86.

Guagliardo, Huey, ed. Conversations with Richard Ford. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2001.

Guagliardo, Huey, ed. Perspectives on Richard Ford. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2001.

Prescott, Peter. “I Dreamed Our House Caught Fire.” Newsweek 115 (June 11, 1990): 64.

Seabrook, John, and Maude Schuyler Clay. “Of Bird Dogs and Tall Tales.” Interview 19 (May, 1989): 104-107.

Weber, Bruce. “Richard Ford’s Uncommon Characters.” The New York Times Magazine 137 (April 10, 1988): 50-51, 59-65.

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