Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

As the title suggests, “Inventing the Abbotts” explores how the characters endow people and events with meaning that suits their own needs. For Jacey, the Abbotts represent wealth and comfort beyond the means of his widowed mother. Although his interest in the family takes the form of romantic involvement with the daughters, what really fascinates him is the life he perceives the family to have, embodied for him in their showy parties with pretty tents on the lawn. The family conforms to his imagined ideal that contrasts with his own family’s life and opportunities.

At the same time as Jacey invents the Abbott sisters to meet his ideal, they invent him to meet their needs. Eleanor uses her sexual relationship with him in her rebellion against her parents. Although Doug makes clear in his narration that he and his brother are nice, hardworking boys who are in most ways no different from their wealthier friends, Eleanor convinces her parents that Jacey is lower class and even dangerous. Pamela’s perception of Jacey as being exciting and threatening because of their class difference draws her to him later in the story.

Doug, to some extent as well, as a boy has an inflated idea of the Abbotts’ wealth. He realizes by the end of the story that they are not especially rich; he also is able to see the family’s faults, such as the snobbery of both the parents and of Pamela and the parents’ attempts to control their daughters’ lives, driving them away in the process.

For the brothers, learning to see the Abbotts as they really are means that they have grown up. By the end of the story, they recognize the Abbotts’ faults and no longer need to judge themselves against this family. The Abbotts are still throwing parties under tents in their backyard, now for their grandchildren, but Jacey and Doug have moved away and can no longer be hurt even by Mrs. Abbott’s unkind words when she sees them in town.