Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Murderers” is an initiation story into the mysteries and complexities of life, sexuality, and death. At the beginning, the narrator rebels against his family’s inertia and timidity by boldly and independently exploring the greater world outside his own rundown neighborhood. He seeks excitement, romance, and adventure, all of which are conspicuously lacking at home. This independence is the beginning of his maturity, and the narrator recalls feelings of optimism and confidence.

Then one day he meets three friends, and instead of descending, by subway, in search of excitement, he and his friends ascend to the top of a building for another sort of adolescent adventure, a vicarious experience of sex. At first, the narrator gazes from the couple to the sky above and senses the immensity of space with such intensity that he calls it the beginning of philosophy. The implication seems to be that there, suspended between earth and sky, he comes to an awareness of the infinite, an intimation of the vast backdrop to any human drama. As with the subway adventures, the primary feeling associated with adolescence at this point is excitement.

The naked, bearded rabbi and his chameleon-like wife with her wigs of many colors seem almost generically male and female. As the rabbi and his wife begin to make love, the boys respond intensely to the sexual display. This, too, is their inheritance, a reality emphasized by the generic aspect of the couple who...

(The entire section is 558 words.)