Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 444

The central thematic statement of “Settled on the Cranberry Coast” occurs when Rosie says that her daughter Carolyn is no longer part of “our lives,” and Eddie can imagine moving in with Rosie and her granddaughter Hannah. He thinks “we don’t live our lives so much as come to them, as different people and things collect mysteriously around us” and he feels as though he is coming to Rosie and Hannah, easing his way toward them. The story is largely about the mysterious way that people become who they are, not for any particular reason, but just because things happen that way. There is no particular reason, for example, that Eddie is past middle age and still single or that Rosie is responsible for bringing up her granddaughter. Things have simply happened that way.

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It is an unexpected blessing that Eddie, who did not have a chance with Rosie when they were in high school, meets her again when he is retired and she is a grandmother and gets a “second chance” to have a relationship and become “Settled on the Cranberry Coast.” The second chance for Eddie is also a second chance for Rosie, a woman who had an illegitimate child, who in turn had an illegitimate child, for whom Rosie is now responsible. Because of the presence of Hannah, Eddie finds himself in the position of easing his way into a ready-made family. Eddie has no experience with small children and therefore feels envious of the man at the kite festival who seems so comfortable teasing Hannah. However, Eddie discovers that childish teasing is not as important as genuine feeling; at the end of the story he feels completely at home with Hannah’s head resting “perfectly round” on his shoulder as he stands listening to her “easy, settled breathing.”

“Settled on the Cranberry Coast,” an O. Henry Awards prize winner in 1995 and included in Michael Byers’s first collection The Coast of Good Intentions, is typical of his work. In the tradition of such young writers as Ethan Canin and Christopher Tilghman who appeared in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, Byers affirms, in a seemingly simple, matter-of-fact way, the solid unsentimental values of family, commitment, and hope for the future. Byers focuses primarily on men who, although certainly not simple, are simply trying hard to do their best. Like Eddie, the retired schoolteacher in “Settled on the Cranberry Coast,” they are still looking hopefully to the future. As Eddie makes Rosie’s house sturdier, their relationship grows as well, gradually affirming Eddie’s opening sentence in the story: “This I know; our lives in these towns are slowly improving.”

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