Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Larry Brown’s central theme in this story relates to the futility of human existence. As a way of easing his wife’s burden and thereby easing his own burden, Louis makes a nightly check of the house. Sometimes this happens more than once a night. Louis is not particularly angry about it but wishes that he did not have to do it, wishes that his wife did not need that of him. This is much like the fatalistic existential human experience, where people continue to live and go about normal activity as if everything were fine, when they actually have the helpless feeling that there is no meaning in life and little reason to go on.

Louis keeps thinking of how nice it would be to eat some good, hot food. It is the wrong time for breakfast, unfortunately, and this is a reminder of the limitations and restrictions constantly faced in life. Louis does not lash out against the greater structure of the universe, which implies that it is the wrong time for breakfast or to sit up and drink coffee; instead, he goes about the business he was assigned and he kills time until he can continue sleeping, as is his proper function in this late hour.

He does not argue against his wife when she hears imaginary voices, because he knows that she does not sleep well. He has seen her sleeping for many years and he knows it is a tortured sleep, a painful and terrible time for her. Considering that, and that he loves her, he makes her feel as comfortable as he can by...

(The entire section is 489 words.)