Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Oh, the Wonder!” was first published in 1965, in the middle of the now-legendary 1960’s, when young Americans were questioning everything in which their elders believed. The seemingly endless war in Vietnam was one of the contributing factors. Many understood, however, that this dirty little war was only a skirmish in the global Cold War that pitted the United States against the Soviet Union for nearly half a century.

Many young people—especially sensitive, intelligent, well-educated people—were finding it difficult to plan for the future because everything that was happening seemed to point to universal doom. Both the United States and the Soviet Union were accumulating so many atomic weapons that they could destroy the earth and everybody on it many times over—a phenomenon dispassionately described by military experts as “overkill.” China had the hydrogen bomb and, because of its enormous population, seemed to present a potentially greater threat to the free world than the Soviet Union. It was hard for young people to take such things as career, marriage, and family seriously when time seemed to be running out for the human race. It seemed especially wrong to bring children into a world that was spinning out of control. The Irish poet William Butler Yeats aptly expressed this type of mood in his prophetic poem “The Second Coming” (1921) with the lines, “The best lack all conviction, while the worst/ Are full of passionate...

(The entire section is 590 words.)