Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Taking Care” seems on first reading to have two opposite or contrary meanings. On one hand, the story is about the power of human (and perhaps divine) love. As Jones says in his sermon, “We are saved not because we are worthy. We are saved because we are loved.” His sermon is a blur to him, however, and as Joy Williams says in the opening sentences of the story, his love for others has never seemed to help anyone. For, in spite of what he does, as loving husband and father, his wife is sick and probably dying, and his daughter has abandoned her family only to face a mental breakdown. Also, in spite of Jones’s profession, there is little evidence of God’s immediate presence in “Taking Care.” The ambiguous meaning of the story is captured best, perhaps, in a series of vivid images: on a drive into the country, during which Jones sees “a holiness in snow, a promise,” and he and his baby granddaughter delight in the sight of a snowshoe rabbit running across a field. The rabbit is suddenly shot by a hunter and skids across the road in front of their car, however, just as his wife has been struck down by disease. The beauty in this world, in short, is constantly being undercut by its pain. Jones plays a record of Austrian composer Anton Bruckner’s Te Deum (“Thou, Lord”) left by his daughter and is overwhelmed by the music but cannot remember enough of his college German to understand the meaning of the words. It is not easy to grasp the...

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