Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Stuart Dybek’s story joins the theme of assimilation into a cultural mainstream with the traditional narrative of a young man passing through adolescence toward the maturity of adulthood. The protagonist is a third-generation member of a family that immigrated to the United States from Europe, quite possibly the Czech Republic, since his favorite restaurant is called the Pilsen after the famous Czechoslovakian source of lager. In the first section of the story, Dybek establishes the ambience of an ethnic neighborhood within the vast city of Chicago, mentioning that his grandmother would search for the language of the Old World on the radio and that she would elegantly ask his young friends, “Do you take cream and sugar?,” an echo of a European custom. Although his recollections are pleasant, there is also an implication that the entire family shared the same dwelling when he was growing up, an indication of the difficulties of finding private, personal space.

From a social foundation in a community that has re-created aspects of its European heritage in the United States, the narrator moves toward young manhood as a part of a process that blends Old World customs with the opportunities afforded by an open, less-structured society. His developing relationship with Kate is energized by the options that they have. After working to pay for college tuition in mundane labor, they are both astonished and delighted to “find real jobs.” Her background is...

(The entire section is 562 words.)