Some of Us Had Been Threatening Our Friend Colby Themes

Donald Barthelme

Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Meaning is closely allied to style in this story’s mock-serious, deadpan consideration of a clearly absurd situation. The friends are a tightly knit group whose strong allegiance to one another and willingness to substitute their own law for the law of the land recall the esprit de corps and modus operandi of the Ku Klux Klan, the Mafia, the Central Intelligence Agency, and other organizations engaged in covert activities. Less ominously, this group is reminiscent of such all-male fraternal organizations as the Masons and the Shriners, which use costumes, codes, and procedures known only to their initiates; college fraternities with their hazing rituals; and less formal clubs that nevertheless impose behavioral norms on their members.

The apparent reasonableness with which this group claims the right to chastise their “dear friend” and fellow member is undercut by the gruesomeness and extremity of their chosen method. In short, they make friendship the rationale for murder. The group is fully aware that they are taking the law into their own hands, but rather than finding this a deterrent to action, like many a vigilante group they proceed regardless, taking precautions only to avoid calling undue attention to themselves.

Published in the wake of the Watergate revelations and the controversial nomination of William E. Colby to be promoted from deputy director of the CIA to its head, the story can be read as a commentary on the...

(The entire section is 563 words.)