Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

This quiet story offers an indirect portrait of sickness and health in both a physical and a psychological sense. Weakened by illness, Bowman comes to recognize that his life has never been strong or whole in an emotional sense. He has never before regretted his own failure to settle down and rear a family. Now, just before his death, he learns what he has missed. However, it is difficult to define exactly what quality of the young couple’s life Bowman envies. His admiration for their existence goes beyond the simple yearning to have a child, important though that is. Even before he realizes that the woman is pregnant, Bowman is drawn by her composure and by the way she responds to Sonny’s every action. For example, he senses her wordless pride while Sonny works to pull the car from the ravine and in the way she points out that Sonny had made the whiskey offered to Bowman. The quiet bond between them contrasts with his own memories of indistinguishable women and faded hotel rooms. As a salesperson, Bowman has developed a line of conversational patter that he uses with his customers. With his hosts, however, he finds it difficult to get beyond the first few words of his usual line. Their silence compels his respect.

The theme of the story depends on the contrast between Bowman’s progressively deteriorating health and the young couple’s strength and purposefulness. Although Bowman is superficially more sophisticated and knowledgeable than Sonny and his wife, their lives have a meaning his has been denied.