Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Town Smokes” is the title story of a collection of short stories by Pinckney Benedict that examine borders and are populated by independent people with strong personalities. In his first interview about the book in The New York Times Book Review, Benedict noted that West Virginia, where the stories take place, is often called a border state because northerners think of it as a southern state and the southerners hold the opposite opinion; Benedict calls the state a doorway. The emotional content of this title story involves borders, the border between boyhood and adulthood and between a dual sense of place and displacement.

“Town Smokes” takes place at a camp on top of Tree Mountain. As the story unfolds, the boy’s interpretation of life’s events is padded by expressions and understandings that have been passed on to him by his father and his uncle and by a knowledge gained from living intimately with nature. He knows from his father, for example, that a hard rain and a blue sky can happen at the same time, but when such an event occurs at the story’s beginning, this is the first he has seen it for himself. He has been prepared and now is witnessing life firsthand. This is his first awakening in a long line of such events. He knows that with his father dead, it is his time to become a man. He knows, too, that he is not yet a man. He is on the border, in between.

The tension at the beginning of the story is between the boy and the alcoholic Uncle Hunter, his father’s older brother. As his uncle offers advice on how the boy should conduct himself, it is...

(The entire section is 655 words.)