Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The story of the young man who falls in love with a young woman and asks her antagonistic father for her hand in marriage is universal in appeal. One theme is how love transcends family differences in its patience, kindness, and strength. The background of the family discord between the Neumillers and Joneses presents another thematic issue: a confident, educated, successful, faithful Roman Catholic family confronts a suffering, semitransient, regressive Protestant family. “The Suitor” echoes William Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers in Romeo and Juliet (c. 1596) and even the legend of Tristan and Isolde; each of these stories concerns young people who must reconcile cultural differences in order to love each other.

However, the enigmatic Ed Jones, not the lovers, stands as the emotional and thematic center of “The Suitor.” He represents the guardian of old ways (symbolized by traditional farming) and the keeper of the treasure (Alpha), but suffers from personal difficulties with drinking and trying to support his family. Despite his problems, Ed attempts to celebrate life in his drinking and singing, evading his problems on the wings of a different type of love—narcissism.

“The Suitor” explores the spiritual potential of the half-beaten Ed Jones. Darkness and light are mixed in equal proportions in him, making his a dynamic, complex personality. Ed’s love of animals, his pride in his horses, and his painful battle...

(The entire section is 402 words.)