Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Although no time period is specified, behind the events in the old bird’s life looms the menace of the Depression, of three-cent newspapers, five-cent cups of coffee, and ten-cent hamburgers. Thus, the Newmans’ story has a special poignancy that comes from not knowing what will become of these two old people after the Christmas season ends and Mr. Newman’s job is finished. The main theme of “The Old Bird: A Love Story” is the humiliation suffered by proud people when their working lives are effectively used up. The Newmans apparently have scant savings, if any, and there is no hint of children whose loving ministrations might ease their passage to the grave. Their future is bleak. After the inevitable Christmas layoff, Mr. Newman will take to haunting the employment offices again, but the result will be rejections and disappointment.

J. F. Powers depicts convincingly the gauntlet that job applicants have to run between the receptionist and the boss. It is a grueling psychological ordeal that saps Mr. Newman’s spirit and has ended in defeat and despair for thousands like him. For this reason, “The Old Bird: A Love Story,” despite its tender portrayal of love, is a grim piece of social realism that evokes the hardship of economic realities.

However, the story is also and finally another dramatization of the conviction that love conquers all. Mr. Newman is an aging Ulysses who, after a trial of hardships, finally makes his way...

(The entire section is 428 words.)