Themes and Meanings
Set during the exhilarating 1920’s and the depressed 1930’s, the story depicts character conflict during rapidly changing times. Louise finds the capacity to adjust and grow when confronted with challenge, whereas Christian, considered an important figure on campus during college, finds himself ill prepared for the world that he confronts beyond the university. The hollowness of his character is exposed when he is no longer propped up by Louise’s father. By accepting society on its terms, Louise succeeds in the highly competitive environment of New York City. Because he expects society to adjust to him and rejects all activities that he does not enjoy, Christian fails in his environment. The story presents the classic conflict of one character’s outgrowing another.
Further, it challenges the usual acceptance of the value of athletic and business success. Christian comes to recognize that his value system, which placed importance on competitive athletics, is flawed. The German boy Diederich, who received the cheers that Christian had expected, went to a professional team and had his neck broken. Louise’s father, who has succeeded as a manufacturer, commits suicide when he has to face failure and bankruptcy. The social criticism offered by the story is, however, muted and detached. The reader is reminded that values are not absolute and that adaptability is essential to success.
In addition, poignantly, sympathetically, the story develops the theme of lost youth. Christian attempts to recapture a moment of triumph, of promise, a time when he felt invulnerable and harbored no thought of death. Except for that moment, his memories of his life are recollections of unfulfilled promises, of lost opportunities, of defeats. He has had to scale down his expectations, and his future seems bleak.