Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The main themes of “Gold Coast” deal with racial and age differences and with loneliness. James Alan McPherson captures many of the surface details of American life in the late 1960’s with hippies, drug dealers, and lonely middle-aged men driven wild by young women wearing miniskirts. More important, Robert’s confidence about his writing career reflects the growing optimism of many American blacks resulting from the decade’s progress in civil rights. The relationship of Robert and Jean is a testing of the generally more liberal social atmosphere but fails the test. Sullivan is uneasy about their affair because “it is in the nature of things that liberal people will tolerate two interracial hippies more than they will an intelligent, serious-minded mixed couple.” The latter poses a more substantial threat to the prevailing social order. Their seriousness makes them feel estranged from both white and black worlds, as when they ride in the subway and find themselves in a car with whites on one side, blacks on the other, tension and hatred all around. With no room on either side for both to sit, they stand, holding a steel post, in the middle, “feeling all the eyes, [trapped] between the two sides of the car and the two sides of the world.” Leaving the subway, “we looked at each other . . . and there was nothing left to say.”

The age difference, more than the racial difference, creates tension in Robert and Sullivan’s friendship....

(The entire section is 523 words.)