He Themes

(Short Stories for Students)

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Appearances
The story ‘‘He’’ is narrated through the eyes of Mrs. Whipple, whose main goal in life is to appear as if she and her family are happy and content, without suffering or need, as well as surrounded with love. No matter what is happening in their lives, no matter what emotions they are experiencing, Mrs. Whipple puts all her energies into making it appear that her family fits some kind of image that she has construed inside her head that defines the ideal setting, the ideal family. Toward this image, she is obsessed with keeping her children and their clothing immaculate. She admonishes them if they act in any way that might be considered strange while in the presence of neighbors. She sacrifices her family’s meager belongings in order to impress and considers the worst of all possible insults to be forced to accept charity.

Mrs. Whipple takes her fanaticism of creating her illusion of perfection to such an extent that she even tries to fool herself. In her attempts to give the appearance of normalcy, she loses touch with her own emotions. As she butchers the suckling pig to show her brother that she is so well off that she can sacrifice the extra money that the pig would have brought to the family had they waited until it was full grown, so too does she try to kill off her own emotions to prove how much she loves her son He, sometimes without regard to the welfare of the rest of her family.

Although it is not obviously stated in the narrative of this story, the reader can assume from subtle suggestions that in spite of, or maybe because of, Mrs. Whipple’s obsession with appearances, most people around her are aware of the family’s lack of material wealth and normalcy, and Mrs. Whipple’s insistence of the contrary just makes the lack more obvious.

The saddest part of this story is Mrs. Whipple’s confusion of her own emotions. She tries so hard to convince herself that she loves He as much, if not more, than the other members of her family, but in the end, worn out by her inability to cope with her real emotions, she ends up barely loving him at all. She tries to rationalize her lack of emotions for He by convincing herself that He appears to have no feelings. So just as she tries to fool her neighbors by trying to make things appear normal in her family despite the truth of their desperate conditions, she also tries to fool herself by exaggerating her son’s strength, his lack of need for warmth, and his inability to feel pain. She avoids what she does not feel fits in with the image that she wants to portray.

Mother’s Love
Mrs. Whipple seems to do everything wrong when it comes to exploring the pleasures of a mother’s love. Although she believes that she is right in all her actions, the results of those actions prove her wrong.

She has three children. Two of them she describes as being smart but whiney, afraid, and easily hurt. Her other child, He, does not attend school and does not speak, but He is described as being fearless, uncomplaining, and giving. She more often praises He than she does her other two children. She even goes so far as to tell neighbors that she loves He more than the other two combined. This eventually wears on Adna and Emly as they want to leave the family as soon as possible, leaving home even before finishing school. He, on the other hand, as soon as he can no longer work, is sent off to a sanitarium. His mother can no longer afford to take care of him.

All through the story, Mrs. Whipple tries to prove to her neighbors that she loves He. She does not miss an opportunity to vocalize her feelings. However, once inside the house, away from the eyes of her neighbors, she takes away his blankets...

(The entire section is 1,032 words.)