Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Redemption” is about ways of coping with loss, grief, and guilt. Because these are universal experiences, the story is ultimately about coping with the human condition. Unable to accept his own fallibility, cursing God’s injustice, Jack’s father, Dale, abandons reason and responsibility and indulges his emotions. Jack’s mother and sister find solace in work, religion, and friends. Jack tries to lose himself in nature, but finds only temporary relief. Ultimately, he turns to art, exemplified by his earlier fantasies of heroic battle and sexual conquest, as well as by his later stories of self-pity and self-abasement. These fantasies try to evade reality, paralleling Dale’s behavior.

John Gardner’s story mirrors Jack’s experience. Only by confronting reality directly and clearly, Gardner implies, can Jack achieve redemption. The process results in humility, which leads to self-forgiveness, and to empathy, which leads to the forgiveness of others—including Jack’s father. This permits Jack to rejoin the family, to accept the human condition. Unlike the fantasies, which are emotional and self-indulgent, this kind of art is rational and consoles the reader. “Redemption” can help relieve the pain of life and create a sense of union with the human community.

“Redemption” contrasts two types of behavior. One is self-centered, arrogant, cruel, irresponsible, and lawless. The other is self-sacrificing, humble, empathetic,...

(The entire section is 453 words.)


(Short Stories for Students)

God and Religion
Gardner chooses God and religion as one of his central themes in ‘‘Redemption.’’ More specifically,...

(The entire section is 590 words.)