Themes

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 308

Coming of age: This work deals with the period of transition undergone by those passing from childhood to maturity—a period which Sarris does not portray positively. Frankie, the protagonist, appears torn in two, struggling to reconcile his base sexual desires and the consequence of his approaching physical maturity with the idealism of childhood romance, as glimpsed in the flashback with Caroline. The fact that this is not a conflict that can be resolved is demonstrated by Frankie’s awkward and ultimately unsuccessful attempts to convince Caroline that his feelings for her are not sexual alone.

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Sex and identity: Frankie and his friends talk about sex a great deal. Frankie, and presumably his friends as well, see their identities as incomplete and in need of validation by means of a sexual encounter. The slaughterhouse, as a forbidden region with connotations of both the magical and the macabre and terrifying, appears as a metaphor for sex itself. The failure of sex to meet the adolescent boy’s grand expectations of it is symbolized by their disappointment at Frankie’s uninspiring reports of what he saw inside the slaughterhouse.

Friendship: Frankie and his friends are portrayed as an insular group who rely on one another for security in a dangerous and unwelcoming world. The image of a wolf pack is evoked by the apparent closeness and affection between the boys and by their selection of a leader in Buster Copaz. Adults appear as distant figures, either as beaten down and world-weary (as in Frankie’s father and uncle) or as amused observers (as with his aunt and old man Toms, who lives next door to Caroline). Also worth noting is that the friendship between the boys is not sincere. The respect they have for one another is conditional on the macho aire that they undertake in each other’s company.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 410

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 adolescence—sex, identity, and finding a place for themselves—they effect worldliness and lean on one another for support in an intimidating world. Within such groups, one boy usually masters his own insecurities, puts on a brave face, and stands out as the leader. Within Frankie’s gang, that role falls to Buster Copaz.

The boys strut around in a setting of civic distress. The slaughterhouse, a tattered capitol, dominates this empire of disfranchised exiles living on the outer fringes of town. The prostitute Sally Did drives a gold Cadillac, a depressing symbol of what upward mobility means on Santa Rosa Avenue. Frankie’s home life reveals poverty among the six-packs, but Caroline’s situation defines absolute squalor. She lives in the Hole, “two lines of brown army barracks” in the most depressed area of South Park. Given the attention that it receives, the setting becomes an important narrative element in “Slaughterhouse,” conveying by implication a great amount of information about the struggling adolescents who are forced to fend for themselves.

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