Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Mrs. Campbell’s and Neil’s relationship raises basic issues about parenting and sex, the boundaries of family love and obligation. In a family as liberal and understanding as the Campbells, there are still shame and thwarted expectations. Neil is ashamed of his own sexuality, while his mother treats it as a worthy political cause that she eventually loses. By coming to terms with each other’s limitations, Neil and his mother reenact the painful but inevitable process of separation that takes place between parent and child. Because this is a mother-son separation, it has a sexual dimension. Because it involves a homosexual son, the usual separation rituals are inoperative; as much as Wayne is a part of Neil’s life, a long-term partner perhaps, he can never be a potential daughter-in-law, and this fact must naturally bewilder Neil’s mother and influence her responses.

Mrs. Campbell is not the kind of mother who shows anger toward her son for being homosexual, but one can speculate on the sublimated anger implied in her having three female dogs. Are Abigail, Lucy, and Fern daughters who will never betray her as her much-absent husband and her sexually deviant son have? David Leavitt teases the reader to infer as much when he has Neil recount how his first dog, Rasputin (obviously male), licked his torso, thereby igniting his first sexual feelings. The respective sexual territories that Neil and his mother come to occupy were marked off at that moment.