Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

A resonant theme in American short stories written after World War I, such as Ernest Hemingway’s “My Old Man” (1923), is that of the betrayal of the father. In such stories, a son typically grows up to learn his father is much less capable and ethical than he had supposed. In Wilbur Daniel Steele’s own “For Where Is Your Fortune Now?” (1918), a son who follows his footloose but disarmingly charming father quickly finds the man is a bum and a womanizer. One can conjecture that stories on such themes were provoked by the disillusionment that the young felt over the pointless carnage of the war, which many thought had been precipitated recklessly by their elders.

When a theme becomes suggestive for a period, it does not mean that every writer follows the same line in treating the subject. Rather, the theme provides grist for different fiction writers to mill. In “Footfalls,” Steele takes up the relations of fathers and sons as well as the loss of innocence but reverses the normal weighing of the terms. In place of a son who finds his father wanting, he creates a father who appears brokenhearted by his son’s deeds. Boaz did not doubt his son, but the townspeople and the reader assume he does through much of the tale because of the cobbler’s ambiguous use of cachorra. Moreover, rather than the story gradually leading up to a disillusionment, here the father’s seeming misgivings are dispelled at the conclusion.


(The entire section is 411 words.)