Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Frank Conroy’s autobiography, Stop-Time (1977), uses the concept of time as focus. In “Midair,” time seems to freeze around certain events in Sean’s life. The story also compresses time to show how a long-forgotten childhood event causes Sean to retreat from those closest to him. Sean so dreads spending his life alone that he marries a woman whom he does not love; his chosen work, writing, suffers from his inability to understand himself and the outside world. He acknowledges that the world is dangerous but hopes that he can find strength there. His wife, fearful for reasons of her own, wants to withdraw. It is only when their two sons are born that Sean begins to write about his childhood and to have some incidents slowly revealed to himself. Here time begins to unravel for him.

Time, as a theme, is closely connected to Sean’s strength as a father. He begins to see his children as part of a continuum through time, and to reject the out-of-control behavior shown by his own father and by himself early in his marriage. The pattern of hanging over the edge of sanity shown so vividly in the first scene is repeated when Sean climbs his mistress’s roof, obsessed with the idea of finding sanctuary and safety inside her apartment. Unlike his father, Sean recognizes reality and is able to save himself. When he hears the story of the baby falling from the window, his horror takes a more positive form: He vows to protect his sons.


(The entire section is 490 words.)