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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 261

"Communist" is a short story by Richard Ford which contains a few themes. The most prominent theme is the clash of ideologies between Glen Baxter, the titular communist, and the narrator's mother, Aileen. The narrator and Aileen are both from a small town in Montana, whilst Baxter is from the West and is a drifter.

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The issue of communism isn't discussed in detail in the story, but it comes through in the different mindsets of the characters. Baxter believe that the end justifies the means, which is a common way of thinking among Marxist revolutionaries. This is exemplified brutally when Baxter kills a wounded winter goose in the water, claiming that a "minor" mistake is trivial in the grand scheme of things.

This philosophy has historically allowed authoritarian regimes and immoral insurgents to glaze over atrocities in order to accomplish their revolutionary goal. However, Baxter, supposed communist and labor organizer, doesn't seem to exhibit the discipline of single-minded revolutionaries. He is an alcoholic and a womanizer who exhibits needlessly violent behavior. The killing of the goose wasn't a political protest against anything other than his argument with Aileen.

Another theme of the story is the bond between the narrator and his mother. Neither of them ascribe to the philosophies of Baxter, and their shared tenderness toward the world and other living things brings them closer together.

Additionally, the theme of growing up into adulthood is evident in the conclusion of the story. The narrator is transformed from a teenage boy into someone who has awakened to the realities of the world.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 292

“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.

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