Rock Springs Themes
by Richard Ford

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Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

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In typical Richard Ford stories, his mostly male characters live in the vast emptiness of the American West. Raised to stand silent and stone-faced in the presence of trouble and hard times, they must face and ultimately move forward through times of crisis and change. Earl Middleton has lived through, or at least survived, a lifetime of failed relationships. His relationship with Edna, herself no stranger to harsh, heartbreaking encounters with love, began in a bar and was most likely consummated in the backseat of an old Chevy. They are natural-born drifters unburdened by something as bourgeois as an occupation, or a nine-to-five job. If life is not working out in Montana, then it is high time to move on, which is exactly what they do. In the world in which they live every day, there is no such thing as a safety net.

The decision to leave owes nothing to something as structured as a plan. It is purely spontaneous: Find a map, round up a car, and they are ready to go. When Earl walks into the house one afternoon and asks Edna, out of the blue, if she wants to go with him to Florida, her response is a flat, matter-of-fact: “Why not? My datebook’s not that full.” By nightfall, they are on their way, riding high on the road, hoping against all hope that things will eventually work out.

The American West that was mapped out by novelist Wallace Stegner was once a place where people came to homestead, to lay claim to a piece of the land, but in Ford’s stories, a spirit of homelessness seems to have inhabited both the empty space of the land itself as well as those who live on it. Earl Middleton is a living, breathing by-product of this migratory pattern of contemporary living. At the end of “Rock Springs,” it does not much matter where he is going. What is clear is that he is gripped by the urge to go, to get anywhere but here. Rock Springs, Wyoming, is a pit stop en route to another town, another woman, all of it viewed through the windows of yet...

(The entire section is 548 words.)