Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

One of the central themes of “The Heroes in the Dark House” is that heroes are found whenever there is a monstrous evil in the world that must be overcome. The hero’s characteristics remain unchanged throughout the ages. Cheerfulness despite the threat of injury and death, a compelling love for others that allows one to fight for their well-being, a bold resolution to act: These traits always have been those of the hero. The heroes of the story, for all their collective importance, are not given individual identities, a fact that points to another trait of the hero: Often he is not a three-dimensional personality, but rather, a kind of ennobled Everyman, one to whom everyone can relate.

A second theme is that history is cyclic, and because it is, tyranny, though it takes many forms, is a recurring phenomenon in human affairs that demands either total submission to it or total defiance of it.

The heroes conjured forth in Broderick’s dark house are giant-slayers, witch-destroyers, fighters against tyrannical kings, and the antagonists of evil, monstrous regimes. Because of them, civilization survives. Certainly, all about them is a magical, supernatural quality that comes from their ability to suspend their fear of death and fight for liberty.

If tyranny is cyclic and the nations of the world never see the end of it, so, too, hope is never-ending. At every challenge to civilization, heroes will come forth, often from the most unexpected quarters.