The story opens in the kitchen, appropriate because food as metaphor characterizes all three main characters. We first meet Norton stuffing himself with peanut butter and ketchup smeared on a piece of chocolate cake, trying to satisfy an emotional emptiness he feels as a result of his mother’s death. He vomits all that he consumes because it is love, not food, that he needs. By the end of the story, in contrast, Sheppard “had stuffed his own emptiness with good works like a glutton. He had ignored his own child to feed his vision of himself.” Rufus at first prefers to find food in garbage cans, suggesting he sustains himself on what others throw out, which motivates Sheppard to bring him into his home, where he “feeds off” Sheppard’s misplaced good will. After intimidating Norton to fix him sandwiches, Rufus later “devour[s]” encyclopedias, and as his confrontation with Sheppard reaches a climax, he literally eats pages from the Bible to prove the authenticity of his belief in it. Having accomplished this, Rufus screams at Sheppard, “I don’t want none of your food after it nor no more ever,” meaning he will no longer tolerate Sheppard’s “good works.” By this point Sheppard loathes the child and only wants him out of the house. He no longer feels compassion, only hatred.
Another significant setting is the universe itself, the stars and moon that can be seen through the telescope Sheppard gives Rufus. The view of the universe through the telescope represents a realm of possibilities in life created by science and rationalism, a cold reliance on reason rather religious faith. In contrast to the garbage can, where Rufus’s “thin hand...roots” down for rotted food, the universe is a reaching out for intellectual food. In his worldview, Rufus looks downward toward a belief in hell, which is why Sheppard says to Rufus, “Rubbish!” when the child speaks of Satan. “We’re living in the space age! You’re too smart...
(The entire section is 599 words.)