Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 660

Each of the characters in “The Pedersen Kid” seeks to create a feeling of inner springtime to battle against the bleak physical environment and the empty prospects of living in a loveless household: Big Hans with his pornographic pictures, Pa with his whiskey, Jorge’s mother with her diligent maintenance of domestic organization and routine, and Jorge with vague dreams of prowess and freedom. Their secret lives are also the sole source of self-worth in the story, for intimacy and compassion are utterly absent. (One profoundly revealing memory of Jorge’s is of his father’s destruction of a favorite picture book, which had been a rare secret pleasure in his life.) It is no wonder, then, that Jorge immediately resents the appearance of the frozen child because the ministrations he earns represent a quality of attention that Jorge himself has never enjoyed. (Pa smacks his son for waking him, and Jorge silently blames the Pedersen Kid; he consoles himself with the thought that the naked boy’s penis is smaller than his own.)

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With the resuscitation of the frozen child comes the bringing to life of his awful tale, and each of the eventual “rescuers” accepts the truth of it—and thus, the responsibility this occasions—for very private reasons, Big Hans, who has saved the boy, probably has a special stake in the version of reality he offers because it vindicates and extends his sudden ascendancy; Pa goes along out of spite for Big Hans, and out of fitful anger over the discovery of his hidden store of whiskey; Jorge is simply bullied into the plot by the men, but his disdain for the Pedersen Kid slowly turns to emulation as he decides to prove himself superior to the neighbor boy under the same critical circumstances. He will outdo him, Jorge thinks, and he imagines himself saving his parents from the killer and thereby proving his own worth once and for all. (That saving his parents would require endangering them first shows that vengeance for years of abuse is a principal motivation, too.)

Each of them sets off in his own story, as it were. However, who is the unseen killer with the yellow gloves who lurks at the end of their difficult journey through the snow? Perhaps he is the Abominable Snowman, winter’s own henchman, the environmental harshness personified and personalized. Perhaps he is the instrument of Jorge’s heroic growth and of his repudiation of Pa and Big Hans—the test of his mettle and, ultimately, the same eradicator of adult authority for Jorge that he was for the Pedersen Kid. As the events of the story grow increasingly ambiguous, losing themselves within Jorge’s dream-riddled mind, other explanations arise, including the possibility that it is Jorge, not the stranger, who has shot and killed his father, fulfilling a wish he had during an idyllic summer when, armed with a broomstick, he roamed the countryside pretending to blast anyone who happened by. Under this interpretation, the yellow-gloved man serves as an imaginary screen protecting Jorge from the unmediated awareness of his guilt.

“The Pedersen Kid” is pervaded by conflicting images of warmth and coldness, exposure and sanctuary. In fact, the snow itself offers opposing qualities—it is both blanket and grave, refuge and death threat, and its coldness burns. Symbolic wombs, tunnels, and shelters all establish the desire for inviolable solitude and rejuvenation, and all prove transitory until, having made his way through the harsh trials of the journey, Jorge burrows into the Pedersen basement, where he is seemingly rewarded with the warmth of an energized consciousness (unless he is suffering the hallucinations that precede freezing to death). While it is irrelevant to speak of the real, totalizing meaning of “The Pedersen Kid,” it can be said that Jorge’s final ability to author his own destiny transforms a desperate landscape into an imaginative realm of vital possibility. His is a victory of artistic consciousness.

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