Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

This story is overtly concerned with racism in American life, not only in itself but also as an example of how a society’s dominant mores and ideologies seek to reproduce themselves in succeeding generations. The children of “The Secret Integration” are innocent in that they lack an understanding of the terms and behavior of the adult world. They recognize, though, that forces are at work that seek to modify and control their behavior and way of thinking. They know that something is being plotted against them at PTA meetings and dispatch Hogan to infiltrate the adult group (although he is thrown out). Grover keeps coming across Tom Swift books, which he is convinced are planted to indoctrinate him with a notion of how boy geniuses are supposed to behave and with the racism that Tom manifests in the book.

It is this threat from the adult world that has led the boys to create “Operation Spartacus,” inspired by the Kirk Douglas film about an uprising of Roman gladiators. Although it is Grover who conceives of this “conspiracy,” the others share his motivations: They find the adult world threatening in its blandness, conformity, and lack of purpose or surprise. The old Gilded Age estates are contrasted with a new housing development called “Northumberland Estates,” which lacks not only the grandeur of the old mansions but also the hiding places and mysteries that surround them. The adults seem content to stay within their houses, sitting in...

(The entire section is 487 words.)