Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Although Theo’s illness is never named, it is clear from his symptoms—the cane, his failing eyesight, the drug injections—that he is dying of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). One level of author David Leavitt’s meaning revolves around different attitudes toward the disease. The owners of the gift shop, for example, do not offer to shake hands with Theo: They want no physical contact with the dreaded AIDS. They typify how members of the larger public often treated people with the disease, especially early in its history.

Theo and his mother, however, are dealing with it differently, and in the best way they can. Theo has decided that he would rather have his eyesight than extend his life as a blind person. He has made his choice about the quality of his life, and his death.

The story’s actions focus more on Sylvia and her response to her son’s sickness than on Theo. She has rented a hospital bed for the duration of his stay, she gives him the necessary injections four times a day with the equanimity of a nurse, and every day she urges Theo out of himself and their house. She knows what is best for him. In the story’s only flashback, in the opening expository section, readers are told of a trip to a Broadway show in New York City when Theo was a child, when he did not want to admit he needed glasses. Sylvia forced her own ugly glasses on him then, caring only that he be able to see. Sylvia is pushy, overbearing—and a mother acting in the only way she knows how for the child whom she so dearly loves.

The pressure she is under is noted in her one breakdown in the last part of “Gravity”: “For just a moment, but perceptibly, her...

(The entire section is 692 words.)