Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Communist” dramatizes a single sweeping moment in the life of a family as the ties that bind them together begin to unravel before their eyes. It is a theme that Richard Ford has explored in two other stories in his collection Rock Springs (1987)—in “Great Falls” and “Optimists”—and in his novel Wildlife (1990). These stories, like “Communist,” have adult male first-person narrators who have struggled to transcend the often hard and unforgiving circumstances of their lives. Their events revolve around the themes of adultery and violence, of life and love not working out as they have dreamed. In “Communist,” nothing—not even the snow geese—mates for life. Unforeseen events and people intrude, often assuring that nothing will ever be the same again. “Sixteen is young,” Les muses in the closing lines, “but it can also be a grown man.” He is prematurely forced to come of age, “pushed out into the world, into the real life.” Les’s voice is not, however, tinged with bitterness or even regret. Telling what has happened helps him to understand the complex reasons behind the seemingly harsh behavior of the few people who have entered his emotional landscape and helped to shape his character. Les is thereby able to reconcile himself with the hard cold fact that often people do not really know those whom they love the most—that they are estranged from them and left to face the world alone. Like many of Ford’s characters, Les is a victim of having “too much awareness too early in life.” However, it is his very sense of awareness that gives him the resilience to go on living; the strength to stride forward, and to live independently—even if it means going at it alone.