Last Updated on August 5, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 560
In "The Communist" the main character and narrator forty-one-year-old Les reflects back on an important event that occurred when he was only sixteen years old. As such a lot of the most important quotes in the story are from the perspective of a man who now understands the world a lot better than his younger self. As he states at the end of the book:
And how old was I then? Sixteen. Sixteen is young, but it can also be a grown man. I am forty-one-years-old now and I think about that time without regret.
The story deals with how the loss of Les's father affected his upbringing and mindset. Initially, he looks to his mother's boyfriend, Glen, as a replacement.
I'll admit that I liked him. He had something on his mind always. He was a labor man as well as a Communist and liked to say the country was poisoned by the rich, and strong men need to bring it to life again, and I liked that because my father has been a labor man, which is why we had a house to live in and money coming through.
At the beginning of the story, Les likes to picture himself as the strong man he thinks his father was, but alone with Glen, he starts to sound nervous.
I thought about boxing and what my father has taught me about it. To tighten your fists hard. To strike out straight from the shoulder and never punch backing up. How to cut a punch by snapping your wrists inward, how to carry your chin low, and step toward a man when he is falling so you can hit him again.
He begins to wish his mother had come with them, suggesting not only that he sees his mother as his protector, but feels far more comfortable in the company of women.
I looked back once to see the Nash far and small in the distance. I couldn't see my mother, and I thought she must've turned off the radio and gone to sleep . . . I knew when the sun was gone it would be cold. I wished my mother had decided to come along with us, and I thought for a moment of how little I really knew her at all.
When he gets the chance to confront Glen and prove what, up to that point he thought it was to be a man, the only feeling he can muster is one of pity.
Only at that moment he looked scared to me, and I had never seen a grown man scared before—though I have seen one since—and I felt sorry for him, as though he was already a dead man. And I did not end up hitting him at all.
At the end of the story, Les stands outside his house with his mother admiring rather than shooting the geese. It is striking how much sensitive he is than earlier in the story.
And I could hear geese, white birds in the sky, flying. They made their high-pitched sound like angry yells, and though I could see them high up, it seemed to me they were everywhere . . . I felt a chill come over my bare chest, and the hair stood up on my arms the way it does before a storm. And for a while we listened.