Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

A bittersweet coming-of-age story, “The Day They Took My Uncle” explores the theme of awakening, both socially and, to a lesser degree, sexually. Most important, Lionel G. García’s narrator learns that family loyalty transcends everything. Despite the uncle’s recurring bouts of madness and alcoholism, the family never considers ostracizing him. On the contrary, there is considerable tolerance for his erratic behavior. The boy’s father, for example, does not become angry with his brother. When reproaching Mercé, the boy’s father “would scold him lightly and in a very gentle way.” Except for the narrator’s sister, all the family members stand by Mercé.

By contrast, the characters in positions of power in the town exercise great control over the uncle’s life. It is not until the mayor, the sheriff, and the priest band together that Mercé is taken away as a simple nuisance. Although the uncle has never acted violently, they treat him as a dangerous criminal. In the end, the boy feels incapable of helping his uncle avoid capture because he realizes that there is “no escaping the law.” Although the family bond is strong, the need to conform to societal norms and not challenge those in power ultimately overrides all else. Nevertheless, the uncle enjoys a minor victory in the end when he returns home with psychiatric proof that he does not pose a menace to society.