Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Despite his checkered early years, Tommy Castelli is basically a decent person trapped in a boring job, sharing his life with a woman whom he has never loved. His incarceration, like that of many working people, does not involve sprawling gray buildings with watchtowers and barbed wire. Rather he is trapped in a way of life that he cannot abide. As the monotony of his routine weighs on him, he is forced to acknowledge that this is his life and that it is unlikely ever to change significantly. Catching the ten-year-old in her petty theft adds a bit of interest to Tommy’s otherwise banal Monday and adds a moral dimension to his life. Bernard Malamud’s choice of the day is calculated: Monday marks the beginning of the week. For Tommy, beginnings are not happy events because what stretches out beyond them is incredible sameness. The word that best describes Tommy’s life at this point is drab.

When Tommy spots the young girl stealing candy, he fleetingly sees a mirror image of his younger self. The mistakes of his early life have resulted in his being in his depressing, dead-end situation. Sensing in the girl an opportunity to save someone from a similar fate, he sets up his act of salvation secretly and with calculation. He writes the note, puts it inside the wrapper of the strategically placed candy bar, and awaits the new beginning that he envisions.

However, in life as Tommy generally perceives it, any plan to do good is scuttled...

(The entire section is 472 words.)