Son of the Wolfman

by Michael Chabon

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Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 445

Like much of Michael Chabon’s fiction, “Son of the Wolfman” demonstrates the difficulty middle-class Americans have expressing their feelings or understanding those of the people for whom they supposedly care. As with stories such as “House Hunting” and “That Was Me,” Chabon is especially adept at delineating failing relationships.

When Richard is unusually quiet following the rape, Cara persuades herself that her husband has been struck dumb by grief, especially because he has never been able to express this emotion. When she asks how he feels about her impending abortion, he merely shrugs. Richard bottles up his pain over the attack on his wife and her decision to have a rapist’s child. He is both angry and embarrassed that a rapist has achieved what he has failed to do, and he implicitly questions his manhood. Without articulating it, he almost envies the rapist, an acclaimed athlete and coach. Richard resembles many other Chabon characters, almost always men, who struggle greatly with matters of maturity, sexuality, and parenthood.

The inability to communicate clearly is another of Chabon’s typical concerns. He sympathizes with Richard’s refusal to try to understand Cara’s decision and comfort her during this time of emotional and physical turmoil yet sees his inaction and his aloofness as childish. Chabon’s protagonists are usually very self-aware, and Richard anguishes over his fear of talking to Cara about their dilemma, his sense of disgust with her, his guilt over never telling her that he really did not want to have children, and his anger over Cara’s not even noticing how lost he is. Emotionally isolated, he has no one with whom he can discuss this ordeal, as his friends abandoned him because of his gloominess.

Cara’s emotional state stands in strong contrast to Richard’s sense of being lost. Once she decides to go ahead with the pregnancy—for reasons she never explains, even to herself—she experiences a sense of elation and convinces herself that the organism growing inside her is entirely of her making. Like the protagonists of Chabon’s The Mysteries of Pittsburgh (1988), Wonder Boys (1995), and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (2000), Cara tries to make the best of things when forces over which she has no control disrupt the relative order of her existence.

Cara’s delayed delivery leads to Richard overcoming some of his fears and becoming at least the symbolic father of their child. While the ending of the story seems predictable, sentimental, and unlikely on the surface, it works because Chabon has created such believable, recognizably human characters and presented them without condescension or self-pity. He never romanticizes his characters’ anguish.

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