Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Writing usually “from distress,” Grace Paley seeks to recover from the “history of everyday life” those nuances of humor and pathos that relieve the sardonic tone of her characterization and counterpoint the moral disintegration of modern society.

Here the breakdown of Faith’s marriage symbolizes the ordeal of a time when idealism (suggested by the mention of Theodor Herzl and her father’s poem, appropriately named by Philip “Dreamer in a Dead Language”) is challenged by a materialistic, egocentric world. Faith tells her father, “I’m just like you, an idealist” who wants “only the best, only perfection.” She justifies sleeping with three men by her search for “perfection.” Ironically, her father claims that he and Faith’s mother never formally got married because they were “idealists.” For all of his daydreaming, the father is shocked by Faith’s entertaining three divorced men, and he blames her for being “more mixed up than before.”

Mr. Darwin’s stubborn, patriarchal ways are revealed in his excessive sympathy for Ricardo, Faith’s former husband, for being young. He considers Faith “demented” in her treatment of her former husband, he considers his wife and Mrs. Hegel-Shtein to be psychosomatic cases. When he condemns Heligman (another resident of the home), whose view of life allows for the process of healing and fulfillment after crisis—time unfolding its spontaneous cure—Faith blurts out: “I can’t stand your being here.” Although attached to her father’s poetic genius, the daughter cannot stand his domineering and supercilious attitude. His joke—“Honesty, my grandson, is one of the best policies”—and his defense of his unconventional liaison with Faith’s mother as a proof of “idealism” demonstrate the destabilizing contradiction in the lives of the older generation. In this sense, the “modesty of the...

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