Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The primary theme of “Truant” is the dehumanizing impact that modern civilization has on the human soul. From the initial depiction of the subway’s cattlelike masses speaking in staccato voices to Barclay’s reflections on his own life, Claude McKay makes it clear that in humankind’s attempt to achieve progress, much that once imbued human drudgery with an inner dignity has been lost. Rather than being independent, as his ancestors were, Barclay and those around him seem to have become sycophants, enslaved to the whims of others. Because they have settled for passive roles and have become separated from one another, they expect the worst from one another and suppress their own emotional longings. For these reasons, Barclay has come to view service to others as a cruel joke and takes no pride in his own activities. Even as a father, he performs perfunctory rituals that seem to have little connection to who he is. He has so distanced himself from his fatherhood role that, more often than not, he forgets the child, unable to integrate her presence into his own definition of self.

Until he strays from his regular routine, all Barclay’s actions are described in terms befitting an automaton. He kisses his wife mechanically; he mechanically accepts the tips that will allow him to support his family; he relates to his daughter in the most distracted of ways. He is a man without purpose and a man without a soul, condemned—as was the Flying...

(The entire section is 549 words.)