Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Critics disagree over the question of whether Didymus achieves grace, and each reader will have to decide the state of Didymus’s soul in the light of his own interpretation of the way to religious salvation. Didymus himself is in doubt, and just before the end can find no “divine sign within himself.” His own evaluation of his condition cannot be taken as definitive, however, even if his judgment of his sin against Seraphin is accepted as accurate—as it probably should be. His faults proceed not from desire but from an earnest desire to follow the will of God, and the genuine human anguish he suffers must count in his favor.

Perhaps most significant of all the evidence is the moving Nunc Dimittis with which the story ends, contributing significantly to the compassionate tone that suffuses the story of Didymus’s tormented self-questioning and death. Didymus dies as the canary flees to “the snowy arms of God,” and it is difficult to believe that the two of them, who want most of all to escape, do not come to the same resting place. If not, the canary is reduced in meaning to a symbol of the peace that comes in the annihilation of death, and if that is J. F. Powers’s intent, then Didymus’s ordeal seems greatly diminished and the allegorical elements emerge as little more than literary ornamentation.