Themes and Meanings
The violent inevitability of both natural and social processes colliding with childhood innocence is a predominant theme in this story. The strongest treatments of this are suggested by the brutal rabies antidote that Billy must undergo and the atom bomb itself. Although precocious Rhoda aspires to be more sophisticated than her years, her innocence is evidenced by the very romanticism with which she attempts to protect herself from the world.
The ironic source of both Rhoda’s fantasies and real problems is her desire to gain status with others. The fanatical need to live for and justify larger-than-life purposes, though made somewhat comic in Rhoda’s character, is also tragic when it is measured against the larger backdrop of the logic that allowed the United States to end the war by using bombs that brought with them the knowledge that humankind is capable of destroying the planet.
Through Rhoda, the story emphasizes the human tendency to feed and live off drama and suffering, whether big or small, in order to make one’s own life seem more important. At the same time, it shows how Rhoda herself is victimized by such a tendency, which she has only learned from the adults around her.