Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The unifying characteristic of this highly idiosyncratic story is the way that it relates the nature of memory to particular memories involving a particular person. At the beginning of the story, the narrator says that he is being chased: The counterpart to his urgency as a child as he fled his father is the urgency that he feels as an adult to recall what his relationship with his father was, and in this way to make that relationship real again.

The narrator’s attention returns repeatedly to the power of his father: “He kneeled—a mountain of shirt-front and trousers.” That he feels unworthy of his father’s doting attention, and at times even feels that he is blackmailing his father, is explained by his father’s erratic personality, by his “disorderly massiveness.” Just as the narrator describes his urgency to recall the past, he recalls the feelings of urgency that his father provoked in him. What he felt was not a sense of physical danger, although his father clearly was a physically overwhelming presence for the young boy; rather, he felt the danger of being bereft of the protection and identity that a father provides: “I could not live without the pride and belonging-to-himness of being that man’s consolation.” The father is recalled as far more than a mere life-sustaining force. He was able to transport his son into a heightened state: “I understood that he was proffering me oblivion plus pleasure.”


(The entire section is 448 words.)