Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 12, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 391

The final story in Birds of America: Stories (1998), “Terrific Mother” offers a coda for the entire collection in which many of the collection’s themes and images are elaborated on and given a final reprise. This story follows Lorrie Moore’s famous “People Like That Are the Only People Here: Canonical Babbling in Peed Onk,” a story detailing the dilemmas faced by a mother whose infant son is diagnosed with cancer. In many ways, Adrienne embodies the concerns explored in the book’s other stories. Her life is disrupted by the persistent contingency that undermines human experience. Her lengthy trauma after the shock of the baby’s accidental death exiles her from community, and during this period of mourning, she is nakedly exposed to existential doubt and metaphysical lawlessness. Learning that the only authentic act available to people is forgiveness—both for themselves and also for others—Adrienne has an insight that could offer a kind of provisional redemptive knowledge to the characters who occupy the other stories in the collection.

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Very different from the project-oriented academics at the villa, Adrienne is adrift. If people generally understand their lives as containing choice and a certain degree of predictability owing to the apparent laws of cause and effect, Adrienne finds herself cut loose from daily life and its organizational structures because of the baby’s accidental death, an event that signals cosmic chaos. Her mental state has more in common with the unconscious than the rationality through which...

(The entire section contains 391 words.)

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