Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Greg Sarris’s “Slaughterhouse” exemplifies the archetypal initiation theme, the story of a young person’s loss of innocence and induction into adulthood. Frankie’s hunger for sexual knowledge signifies his physical maturation and contends against his feelings for Caroline, whose own loss of innocence appears in her contemptuous remark to Frankie that her mother was right and that he is just like all the others. Her disillusioning experience with Frankie probably contributes to her abandoning herself to the ritual ministrations of Smoke and Sally Did in the slaughterhouse, the event that concludes Frankie’s difficult day and smothers his hopes in nihilism.

“Slaughterhouse” presents a modern retelling of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s symbolic tale “Young Goodman Brown,” in which a young, good man leaves his wife, Faith, at home and ventures into the woods at night on a mysterious mission. Soon he meets a stranger, obviously the devil, who leads him to a chapel-like forest clearing, where a black mass is being conducted to induct a young woman into the worship of Satan. The woman is Goodman’s own Faith. Thus, when he cries out at the end, “My Faith is gone,” the moral is clear. “Slaughterhouse” ends similarly, with Frankie looking up, “and there was nothing in the sky.”

A related but lesser theme emerges in the sketch of the boys who bond together in a gang like cubs in a pack. Faced with the perennial challenges of...

(The entire section is 410 words.)