Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

As the title suggests, “The Faces of Blood Kindred” is concerned with the enigmatic nature of blood relationships. Ancestry and family ties are of particular interest to Goyen (and many other southern writers) and form a recurrent motif in his fiction. Other themes that are present here and throughout his work include human isolation, the oxymoronic nature of humankind and experience (spirit and flesh, good and bad, and so on), and the poverty of modern life.

Goyen’s interest in blood kindred takes two forms here: In the foreground is the relationship between James and the cousin, and in the background is the large and diverse family that surrounds them. The boys’ family, the dark, teeming life of the grandmother’s house as well as the various family members in other cities, is a microcosm of the human family; its variety (its pain, fragmentation, and confusion) is representative of the rich complexity of human life. The story of the cousin and James is clearly but one story among the many; the failed effort of the two boys to give voice to their deep and mysterious sense of connection, to manifest the tenderness, loneliness, and hope of their secret lives, is characteristic of the flawed endeavor of all human beings. The depiction of each of the boys is quite touching, and their inability to establish an open and loving relationship is poignant, especially when it becomes clear, as it does in the end, that adults are generally less hopeful,...

(The entire section is 596 words.)