Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Like many of Raymond Carver’s stories, “A Small, Good Thing” is about bad things happening to good people and about how suddenly and irrevocably luck can change. Howard and Ann Weiss have done all the things expected of an upwardly mobile, middle-class couple; nothing has prepared them for a calamity of the magnitude of an only child’s death, and both are at a loss about how to deal with it. As his son lies unconscious after the accident, Howard reflects on the remarkable good luck that has characterized his life thus far: His education and his marriage have gone without a hitch, and neither tragedy nor disgrace has touched his family. Still, he realizes that there are forces “that could cripple or bring down a man if the luck went bad, if things suddenly turned.”

During their son’s stay in the hospital, both Howard and Ann find themselves wishing that things were back to normal—as though wishing could make it so. At one point, Ann longs for “a place where she would find Scotty waiting for her when she stepped out of the car, ready to say Mom and let her gather him in her arms.”

There is every reason to believe, however, that Howard and Ann will survive the devastation of Scotty’s death, and the story’s most positive moments deal with the heightened sympathy for other human beings that often comes with personal tragedy. In a hospital waiting room, Ann meets a black family, one of whose members, Franklin, is being operated on after a knife fight. She becomes almost mystically bound to them through mutual suffering, telling them her story and listening to theirs. Scotty’s death brings out the good side of the mostly unsympathetic Dr. Francis, as well: After the boy dies, the physician seems to Ann “full of some goodness she didn’t understand.” Howard and Ann become closer to each other through shared misfortune, and both become more magnanimous human beings. The story’s final image—the grief-stricken parents and the childless baker awaiting the morning’s light together—is clearly an affirmative one, illustrating as it does what the poet William Wordsworth called “the soothing thoughts that spring out of human suffering.”


(Short Stories for Students)

Compassion, Forgiveness, and Community

The death of Scotty is a heart-wrenching tragedy, but out of it, from the most...

(The entire section is 749 words.)