Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Grace Paley’s story deals with the conflicts between generations, specifically those between an elderly parent and an adult child. Although the father is old and sick, he is sufficiently alert to ask searching and intelligent questions. The narrator is clearly her father’s daughter for she shares his quickness of mind. She seems devoted to him as she sits by what may be his deathbed, but she does not humor him. She does not hide the fact that she is younger and stronger than he. Even though she changes the story that she writes at his request, she concedes nothing in their argument.

Though their argument is often playful, it is significant. One of Paley’s themes is the difference between the stories told by masters of the past and those present-day authors feel they must tell. The father prefers the old-fashioned kind because they progress to definite endings that evoke the tragic nature of life. The daughter’s stories (and presumably “A Conversation with My Father” itself) are not like that. They are witty—sometimes grimly hilarious—and their endings are not necessarily final. Their open-ended nature evokes not the climactic catharsis of tragedy, but a sense of the flatness and minor pathos of everyday life. Paley suggests that the stories that satisfied readers during the father’s modern era are not so satisfying to writers and readers of the postmodern present.

The argument between the father and his daughter in this story...

(The entire section is 556 words.)


(Short Stories for Students)

Art and Experience
The substance of the conversation between the daughter and her father concerns the way real life should be...

(The entire section is 467 words.)