Themes and Meanings
“The Heart of the Artichoke” illustrates the conflicts inherent in an adolescent’s struggle to make his own way independent of the family, intensified by the additional problems between immigrant parents and their America-born children. As the narrator recalls, “His sons were strange animals, born in America.” Despite the love between Daniel and his parents, and the strong bond Daniel has with his father, Daniel feels that he must fight against his parents’ life in order to build his own. The conflict is set up to explode with his parents’ insistence that he work in the family store, which his father sees as their joint future. Not only does this deprive Daniel of chances to goof off with his friends on Saturdays, it marks him as a lower-class immigrant in his own eyes and, worse, in the eyes of his adored Pattie. He believes he has only two choices: to surrender to his father’s world, or defy it. His father, who defied his own father in order to come to the United States and start a new life, does not acknowledge that Daniel faces the same conflict that he did as a teenager.
Pattie’s rejection of the worshipful “grocery boy” focuses Daniel’s anger on his parents’ loving but old-fashioned way of life. The story ends with him returning home to face his parents. Initially he is ashamed of having disappointed them and is on the verge of tears—until he thinks of how Pattie would laugh at his father’s pronouncing “kids” as “kits.” He rages at his father, until his father responds physically. In the ensuing battle, his father’s greater strength and experience easily prevail, but when he releases Daniel, Daniel throws himself at his father’s legs and is as shocked as his parents when his father is knocked down. Not yet ready to take his place as a man, he tries to convince himself that his father let him win. For an instant, however, he is the adult, and his father retreats to the bathroom, crying “those first tears of old age.”