Themes

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 612

"Half a Day" can only be fully understood if interpreted as an allegorical tale, in which each element is symbolic of some greater meaning. The central allegorical motif of "Half a Day" is that a morning spent in school is symbolic of an entire lifetime spent in the school of life. Everything that occurs in the story represents a common experience of the human condition: birth, childhood, old age, death, the afterlife, religion, love, friendship, pain, fear, joy, learning, memory, and nostalgia, as well as the cycle of life from generation to generation.

Writing an essay?
Get a custom outline

Our Essay Lab can help you tackle any essay assignment within seconds, whether you’re studying Macbeth or the American Revolution. Try it today!

Start an Essay

"Half a Day" is a "coming-of-age" story, meaning that one of its central themes is the transition from childhood to adulthood. The narrator, a young boy, is at first reluctant to be "torn" away from "the intimacy of [his] home." As his father leads him by the hand towards school, he looks back "as though appealing for help" to his mother, who stands in the window, "watching [their] progress." This scenario suggests the early stages of life.

As the young boy matures and moves farther away from the security and intimacy of home and family, however, he symbolically looks to his mother for comfort and reassurance. When the boy protests that he does not want to be sent away from home, his father describes the school as a place in which boys become men. At the gates of the schoolyard, the boy is still reluctant to take the first step in the transition from childhood into adulthood, but his father instructs him to "be a man," telling him "Today you truly begin life."

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

The title "Half a Day," indicates the story's central concern with the human experience of time and memory. The narrator emerges from the gates of the school unaware that his entire life has passed, and that he is now no longer a young boy but an old man.

He is confused and disoriented as his surroundings are barely recognizable. It is not until a "young lad" addresses him as "Grandpa" that the narrator, as well as the reader, becomes aware that he is now an old man. In fact, the entire story can be understood as a memory of a life from the perspective of an old man.

Homework Help

Latest answer posted February 5, 2008, 3:06 am (UTC)

2 educator answers

At an allegorical level, "Half a Day" is concerned with three stages of life: childhood, middle age, and old age. It is also concerned with the cycle of life from generation to generation. Each of the male characters encountered by the narrator can be interpreted as an image of himself at various stages in the life cycle. The first child he encounters in the school asks: "Who brought you?" Symbolically, this question is not about the person who brought him to the school, but rather the person who gave him life—his father.

The boy then responds that his own father is dead. This exchange symbolizes the condition of every boy in relation to his father, or more generally, every child in relation to his or her parents: that it is the parents who bring the child into the world, and that everyone's parents eventually die.

When the narrator emerges from the gates to the schoolyard, his father is indeed not there to take him home. The implication is that his father has died. The narrator does, however, see a middle-aged man whom he recognizes. This man is an image of both the narrator's father and the narrator himself in the middle stage of life.

Finally, the "young lad" who helps him across the street in the end of the story is both an image of himself as a youth and a reminder of his status as grandfather.

Themes

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 622

Life/The Human Condition
''Half a Day'' can only be fully understood if interpreted as an allegorical tale, in which each element is symbolic of some greater meaning. The central allegorical motif of "Half a Day'' is that a morning spent in school is symbolic of an entire lifetime spent in the school of life.

Everything that occurs in the story represents common experiences of the human condition: birth, childhood, old age, death, the afterlife, religion, love, friendship, pain, fear, joy, learning, memory, and nostalgia, as well as the cycle of life from generation to generation.

Coming-of-Age
‘‘Half a Day’’ is a "coming-of-age" story, meaning that one of its central themes is the transition from childhood to adulthood.

The narrator, a young boy, is at first reluctant to be "torn'' away from "the intimacy of my home.'' As his father leads him by the hand toward school, he looks back "as though appealing for help'' to his mother, who stands in the window, "watching our progress.’’ This scenario suggests the early stages of life.

As he matures and moves farther away from the security and intimacy of home and family, however, he symbolically looks to his mother for comfort and reassurance. When the young boy protests that he does not want to be sent away from home, his father describes the school as a place in which boys become men. At the gates of the schoolyard, the boy is still reluctant to take the first step in the transition from childhood into adulthood, but his father instructs him to "be a man,'' telling him "Today you truly begin life.’’

Time, Memory, and Old Age
The title ‘‘Half a Day,’’ indicates the story's central concern with the human experience of time and memory. The narrator emerges from the gates of the school unaware that his entire life has passed, and that he is now no longer a young boy but an old man.

He is confused and disoriented as his surroundings are barely recognizable. It is not until a"young lad'' addresses him as "Grandpa'' that the narrator, as well as the reader, becomes aware that he is now an old man. In fact, the entire story can be understood as a memory of a life from the perspective of an old man.

The Cycle of Life
At an allegorical level, "Half a Day'' is concerned with three stages of life: childhood to middle age to old age. It is also concerned with the cycle of life from generation to generation.

Each of the male characters encountered by the narrator can be interpreted as images of him at various stages in the life cycle. The first child he encounters in the school asks: ‘‘Who brought you?’’ Symbolically, this question is not about the person who brought him to the school, but gave him life— his father.

The boy then responds that his own father is dead. This exchange symbolizes the condition of every boy in relation to his father (or child in relation to both of her or his parents): that it is the parents who bring the child into the world; and that everyone's parents must eventually die.

When the narrator emerges from the gates to the schoolyard, his father is indeed not there to take him home. The implication is that his father has died.

The narrator does, however, see a middle-aged man whom he recognizes. This man is an image of both the narrator's father and the narrator himself in the middle stage of life.

Finally, the "young lad'' who helps him across the street in the end of the story is both an image of himself as a youth and a reminder of his status as grandfather.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Previous

Summary

Next

Characters