Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Old Red” is a story about a man whose avocation has become his vocation. This conscious choice carries with it a number of social implications, from the point of view of Mister Maury: In this society, the work ethic dictates that a publicly endorsed career is paramount to a man’s identity, and worth cannot be measured by individual development; personal satisfaction is an end in itself, superior to commercial success and public recognition of service; people who neglect interacting with nature become alienated from the roots of their being; people who pursue too ardently some kind of interaction with nature tend to become outcasts from the mainstream of American life.

These are, perhaps, variations on the same theme. One might even add the implication that the rural poor, at least in the South, have more opportunities for a truly satisfying life than do urban well-to-do whites. Despite the implied racism, Mister Maury observes that blacks often live in the best places (by good fishing streams), and Maury’s daughter accurately observes that he prefers the company of blacks (as fishing companions) to any social contact with his own relatives.

These ideas are part of an attitude often expressed in southern literature suggesting that mainstream America, with its emphasis on progress and commercial success and its rejection of tradition, has warped many personalities, discarding human values that were carefully nurtured in the past....

(The entire section is 470 words.)