Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The story of the two boys and the two fathers is a story of the conflict between reason and force, between man and beast. Larry is smaller, quieter, and weaker than Joe; the two boys ignore each other and manage to play side-by-side for a time. Morton is smaller and weaker than the other father, and he, too, ignores the scene in front of him at first. So long as neither engages, they are safe.

The family’s security and contentedness is built, however, on a false view of the world. Morton is in his element at the university, out of the sun, where all disagreements are rational, where reason has power. On an ordinary Sunday in the park, however, he confronts a man who is not like him, who relies on physical power. The fact is, there are both kinds of people in the world. When push comes to shove (in this case, a literal possibility), force can beat reason every time, at least over the short term. Although Morton walks away from the fight and no one is physically hurt, his views of the world and himself have changed.

The role of women in this conflict is a complex one. The only person whose thoughts and feelings are presented is the mother; the reader can judge the other characters’ thoughts only by their actions. However, the mother’s part in the external events is a passive one. She is the one who first notices Joe’s aggressive actions, and she feels comfortable scolding the three-year-old boy, but as soon as Joe’s father joins in the...

(The entire section is 495 words.)