Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 538

“Noon Wine” deals primarily with human fallibility. For nine years, the Thompson farm is a virtual paradise. Then Hatch arrives and sets in motion the events that destroy the characters. The faults of the Thompsons and Helton, when brought into conflict with the amorality of Hatch, dominate their actions and lead to their downfall. Hatch helps to bring about his own death by his lack of respect for humanity, which turns Thompson against him. The farmer is consumed by worry over how he appears to others. His wife turns her stern moral code against herself by condemning rather than forgiving, and, in the process, divides and demoralizes the family. Helton, despite all that he does for the Thompsons, puts them in jeopardy with his silent madness.

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Thompson’s concern for appearances is his major fault. Before Helton takes over, he is unable to make the farm pay because of his aversion for most types of work. He limits his fields of activity according to what looks proper from the perspective of a proud landowner. Thus, when Hatch poses a threat to his happiness, violence follows. Thompson is not sure if he tried to protect Helton because of benevolence or self-interest. The legal exoneration does not eliminate the doubt. Although he cannot convince himself of his innocence, he literally goes crazy trying to convince everyone else. His family’s failure to support him leads to the suicide.

Mrs. Thompson’s illness represents her quarrel with a world that does not run according to her moral standards. A former Baptist Sunday school teacher, she is disappointed by her husband’s vanity. Nevertheless, life is bearable for her until Hatch interposes. After that, her life becomes too much. Instead of comforting her husband, she remains silent and withdrawn. The lie that her husband forces on her (about seeing the fight with Hatch), and that she corroborates in the desperate attempt to look good to the inhabitants of the area, makes her feel guilty. Although she verifies her husband’s innocence to others, she does not accept that verdict herself. In her moral blindness, she contributes to her husband’s demise.

Homer T. Hatch hides his greed behind the respectability of law and order. As a bounty hunter, Hatch does not care about Helton as a person. He only wants to collect his money.

Helton’s passion for harmonicas is his weakness. He cares more for them than life itself. The one song that he repeatedly plays is identified by Hatch as a Scandinavian drinking song about a worker who feels so good that he drinks all his wine in the morning rather than saving it for the noon break. This single tune, his almost total verbal silence, and his tendency toward violence indicate his uniqueness. He is an outsider who lives by his own rules. However, his refusal to yield to the rules of society eventually hurts him and the Thompsons.

The title, referring to Helton’s single tune, suggests the happiness that is potentially available to humanity. The nine-year interlude on the Thompson farm is a step in this direction. This Edenic existence, however, is interrupted by human fallibilities. Hatch sets in motion the events that destroy himself and others.

Themes

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 116

In Noon Wine Porter examines the theme of guilt, the adulterated nature of human motivation. Essentially a good man, Mr. Thompson commits murder and suicide in the course of the story. Feeling the weight of his guilt and wanting to convince himself and his neighbors that he did not kill Mr. Hatch, the bounty hunter, from base motives but only to defend Helton from attack, Thompson simply cannot overcome the fact that he instantly disliked Hatch on meeting him.

While trying to show his neighbors his innocence, Thompson compounds his guilt by making his wife lie to protect him. Still trying to convince his neighbors, his family and himself of his blameless motives, Thompson commits suicide.

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