Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

When a thirty-four-year-old man becomes obsessed with an eighteen-month-old girl whom he is baby-sitting, the reader, accustomed to kidnap and child abuse shock stories, may initially feel uneasy. If the man were the girl’s father and the word “love” were used instead of “obsessed,” the reader would smile approvingly. So why cannot a man, even though he is not the parent, idealistically love a little girl for her grace and beauty and innocence? This is the thematic question that Kevin Brockmeier—a dreamer, a writer of fairy tales, and a fabulist—poses in “These Hands.”

Although it is certainly risky for Brockmeier to write a story in which a grown man’s love for an eighteen-month-old baby is described in terms usually associated with a man’s erotic love for an adult woman, in the first paragraph, Lewis says that what he longs for is something that is not ugly, false, or confused. He believes in the possibility of grace and kindness, and beauty. Later in the story, he talks more about this notion of ideal beauty when he says as a matter of simple aesthetics, the ideal human form is that of the small child because people lose all sense of grace as they mature.

Lewis says that what he loves about Caroline is the concept of the heart known as the “salient point”—that point at which people merge with the universe. What Brockmeier risks exploring in this story is the mysterious nature of love itself, which, in its primal,...

(The entire section is 442 words.)