Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The search for Epifano constitutes a quest for meaning. The protagonist seeks something that she has never experienced in her life: fulfillment. She embarks on this journey, a journey that may be her last, hopeful of establishing meaning for a life lived for others rather than for herself. The old woman passionately clings to her almost forgotten ancestry, because it provides her with a sense of self. She stands alone, independent from the rest of her family, who treat their Mexican heritage with aloofness.

The voices of her dreams have become more meaningful to her than the voices of her family. The former have a mystical, otherworldly power that promises to quench all of her thirsts and satisfy all of her desires. Every detail of her life in Southern California is rendered meaningless by virtue of the seductive voices of the past. Her search obligates her to abandon the rational nature of her American culture for the subjective and spiritual world of the Tarahumara Indians. It has come down to this for the old woman: Fulfillment and meaning can be found only in the remote world of her tenuous ancestry.

At the story’s end, she is enveloped by light and encircled by ghostly figures, including that of her great-grandfather Epifano. Her despair is replaced by a joy and a satisfaction that she has never known before. The blinding flash of light pierces her, “like an arrow from the bow of an Indian,” and reaches the innermost core of her desire. It represents the supreme moment, a moment when she is complete. There is no pain and no fear. The old woman has returned to wed her ancient past and, in so doing, she satisfies her quest. The last lines of the story reflect this: “The moan of love is the moan of life. She was dressed in white.” It is the end of her search but the beginning of her fulfillment.