Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In the imagery of that star-filled sky, David Madden objectifies J. D.’s realization that his wife and children are dead and that he is fundamentally alone in the universe. This isolation, with its overtones of existential philosophy, is different from the unself-conscious isolation J. D. had experienced in the last few years of his marriage to Carolyn. Like his wife, J. D. is dying inside, and the cause of the problem is the way he has chosen to live his life. Having put career before marriage and material measures of success before emotional ones, J. D. embraces the middle-class success ethic that Madden indicts in the story. It is ironically appropriate that “The Day the Flowers Came” takes place on Labor Day.

In one sense, the story is about J. D.’s death and not the deaths of his wife and children. When he picks up the flowers he has hurled all over the front lawn, he “took them into the house and laid them in his leather easy chair.” The nap he takes on the carpet puts him at a level below that of the flowers. When he awakens, therefore, J. D. rises metaphorically from the grave. He contemplates the darkened exterior world from inside his home, now fully lighted, and sees with real intensity the full moral and psychological dimensions of his situation. This final episode reverses the lighting system of the opening of the story, when J. D. closed out the light of day and resisted facing the truth in a darkened house.

The cold, wet whiteness of the snow with which the story ends reveals J. D.’s capacity to feel grief for the deaths of Carolyn, Ronnie, and Ellen. Paradoxically, he is closer to them at this moment than at any other point in the story. The tension between J. D.’s sense of isolation and his newfound capacity to feel close to his family defines the ending of Madden’s story.