Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 583

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“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 meaning of what goes on in life, Williams implies—even if you are a minister.

Jones says at one point that in his profession, he is concerned with both justification and remorse, that is, with explaining life and then grieving for it. The story demonstrates that there are really no explanations for many things in life, however, and that all people can do is to grieve and to take care of one another, and those are the tasks Jones has taken on in the story. He takes care of his sick wife, his infant granddaughter—even his daughter’s dog. His parishioners, for their part, try to take care of Jones and his family, and his refrigerator is stuffed; when he opens it, “A brilliant light exposes all this food.”

At the end of the story, Jones, his wife, and their infant granddaughter “enter the shining rooms” of their house. Their home is filled with some almost supernatural glow (even inside the refrigerator), because it holds the love that Jones and others have poured into it. In spite of the multiple problems he faces, Jones has taken care of others, and the story reflects that love.

The story’s title may convey this complex meaning as easily as any other element. “Take care” is an expression people use all the time without thinking about its meaning, as Jones himself does in the story. However, “taking care” is really the most important action humans can perform, Williams implies, for taking care of someone fulfills what it means to be human. What distinguishes humans from other life-forms is that they can “take care” of one another, take responsibility of and care for one another. The epiphanic ending cannot erase all the abandonment and sickness taking place in the story, but it certainly balances them with something more spiritual, if not grace then surely redemption for Jones.