Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Family life is a prevailing subject in the works of southern writers. Born and raised in North Carolina, the setting of “Minor Heroism,” Allan Gurganus knows firsthand the significance of the often-complicated, cross-generation relationships that mark the southern family.

In this regard, Richard is the standard bearer of his family’s values. His mother’s contention that silence is “always in good taste” becomes, in Richard, the inability to articulate any of his feelings, particularly his fear concerning the truth of his son’s sexual orientation.

Conformity lies at the heart of Richard’s life. Except for his war years, when he temporarily befriended men who were “dark,” “hairy,” and “sooty from the city,” Richard knows only the values of his time and place, a world marked by a mild Episcopal faith and manicured lawns. Perhaps much of his negative reaction to his son’s lifestyle comes from his suppression of his own individuality. In essence, Richard returned from a great war in defense of freedom only to lead the most conventional of lives.

The family also provides the dramatic context for one of the staple narratives of gay literature, the coming-out story. At the moment that he admits his sexual orientation to members of his family, the gay man not only affirms the full range of his selfhood but also challenges the expectations of his parents and siblings by making his heretofore secret identity...

(The entire section is 532 words.)