Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The key thematic statements in “Train” belong to Mr. Muirhead, who tells his daughter Jane and her friend Danica that the desires of the human heart have no boundaries and that the “mess of secrets” in the human heart are without number. At the end, he tells Danica that he hopes that she enjoys her childhood, for when people grow up, a shadow falls over them. He also tells her that when he grows up he wants to become an Indian so he can use his Indian name, “He Rides a Slow Enduring Heavy Horse.” The sense of life as like being on a train in transition between one point and another is the pervasive theme throughout the story. There is no real stability for the characters, either the parents, whose relationship seems tenuous at best, or for the children, who feel lonely and adrift because of that shaky relationship. There does not seem to be any explanation for this sense of loneliness and isolation beyond Mr. Muirhead’s suggestion about some huge black wing that casts a shadow over adults.

As is typical of so-called minimalist realism in the American short story of the 1970’s, the thematic strands of “Train” derive not from significant plot events but from the repetition of various thematic motifs throughout the story. One of the most prominent of these motifs is the discussion that Mr. Muirhead has with a young man about cemeteries. In describing his visit to a cemetery in Mexico that had a museum of mummies, bodies preserved by the...

(The entire section is 485 words.)