Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The primary focus of “The Doctor’s Son” is on Jimmy’s initiation into adult behavior and his disillusionment on realizing that many of his accepted beliefs are false. Perhaps the most important of Jimmy’s realizations is that his father is fallible, despite the fact that he is a doctor. Doctor Malloy has taught Jimmy to show respect for a doctor as he would, for example, show respect for a priest, and this leads Jimmy to believe that doctors occupy a privileged place in society. The debasement of the medical profession that he observes during the story, however, is followed by a loss of respect for his father.

The flu epidemic is the catalyst for Jimmy’s education. First, his father’s debilitation, surprising to Jimmy in itself, brings Doctor Myers to town. Myers is a capable doctor, despite his lack of training, but his affair with Mrs. Evans causes Jimmy to lose respect for him, and Doctor Myers is not an isolated case; other doctors are also taking advantage of the situation to make sexual conquests or extra money. By the time Doctor Malloy is back on his feet, Jimmy first reveals his disillusionment with the medical profession by omitting a doctor’s title in conversation with his father, an oversight that his father immediately corrects. The final, physical confrontation between the two is almost anticlimactic, as Jimmy has already accepted the fact that his father can make mistakes, and he is no longer afraid to stand up to him.