Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 464

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Much of the meaning in “Same Place, Same Things” is revealed in the central metaphor of the story: Pumps destroy themselves trying to draw water out of wells that are going dry because of the severe drought. The drought in the story is not only a physical case of there not being enough water available for farmers: As Ada makes clear to Harry, she feels that her life has gone dry and that she is burning herself out like an exhausted pump engine as she tries to dredge a life worth living from the dry soil of her married existence. Isolated, lonely, frustrated, and bitter, Ada reminds the reader initially of writer John Steinbeck’s farmwife protagonist Elisa Allen in his often-anthologized short story “The Chrysanthemums” (1938). Ada seems to feel that Harry, as a man who can fix pumps and wells gone dry, is in effect a rainmaker able to bring life-giving water to the parched earth. As such, he should be able to restore meaning and worth to her fruitless life as well. Again like Steinbeck’s Elisa, Ada seems interested in Harry only because he is a man who travels and goes places. At no point is there any indication that she is interested in whoever or whatever he might actually be as a man. After all, she meets him on the day of her husband’s death and within two days implies to him that she is interested in leaving with him.

When Ada visits Harry in the field and in the café, she brings him either food or drink each time, including sandwiches (which he finds rather dry), strawberry wine, and lemonade. In a sense, she is Eve trapped in a desolate Eden, desperate to escape, tempting Harry to partake of forbidden fruit. Harry is indeed tempted at first, but when Ada tells him that she has buried three husbands, he begins to comprehend that she will always seek out a bleak and miserable life despite herself.

When the reader first understands that Harry is a widower who follows droughts around the southeast, living in motor courts and motels, it seems as though his life must also be sad and lonely, as deserted and despairing in its way as Ada’s. Although Harry’s life is a transient quiet one, however, he is a bit of an existentialist. He lives each day for the small and simple joys the day itself brings, not expecting too much and taking pleasure in jobs well done and the freedom of the open road. The loss of his wife, an early tragedy that has shaped his life, has taught him that although life may seem as barren and austere as a desert, one can still find life-giving water if one knows how to look.