Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 432

In “Eating Naked,” Stephen Dobyns is describing a moment of crisis for a man who has become set in his ways. In some ways, Bob prefers being in a settled state. He looks back fondly on the first years of his marriage, when things went according to his expectations. Once...

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In “Eating Naked,” Stephen Dobyns is describing a moment of crisis for a man who has become set in his ways. In some ways, Bob prefers being in a settled state. He looks back fondly on the first years of his marriage, when things went according to his expectations. Once his wife decided to assert herself and make the necessary moves toward becoming a teacher, however, his dissatisfaction grew.

At the same time, Bob reflects that their life together had never been easy. He also has moments when he dislikes who he is. One such moment arrives when he is driving with Laura beside him. In observing his reactions to her, he realizes he has become sick of himself. He sees how he is leading a life so predictable it has taken on the quality of a film script.

First Laura and then Chuckie help him in this self-awareness. Each in his or her turn responds to one of Bob’s pat assertions by asking him, “How come you know so much about it?” Their question has a sarcastic side, being addressed to this character who has a tendency to act all-knowing. It also has a straightforward aspect, however. Being younger, to some degree, they do want to know. In both cases, Bob replies, “I don’t. I’m just making talk.”

The crisis in Bob’s life, within the confines of the short story, is most strongly expressed through the first problem introduced in the story: the deer. Bob has hit it, an act that has damaged his truck. Laura then swerves around the deer and wrecks her own car. Bob feels a need to come to grips with this dead deer, a need that leads to the series of events at Chuckie’s house. In dealing with it, however, he is also dealing with the central problem in his own life.

Chuckie also becomes a vital figure in Bob’s wrestling with his crisis. In considering Chuckie’s threat of suicide, Bob realizes the two have things in common. He discovers this through the words he himself dispenses to Chuckie as worldly advice. Chuckie is unable to accept change, he says, and that refusal has become a crisis for Chuckie for which the outside world is not responsible. Bob turns these words on himself and begins to see the arbitrary manner with which he has been responding to his wife. She was trying to make a life for herself outside the limits of being wife and mother. He realized he might have been fighting change just because it was change.

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