Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

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.


(Short Stories for Students)

Victims and Victimization
The theme of victimization is integral to ‘‘Victory Over Japan.’’ For example, Billy Monday is the victim of a squirrel bite and the painful rabies shots that follow. Rhoda is quick to exploit Billy’s tragedy. Pretending to befriend the unpopular child, she hopes to exploit his situation in an effort to enhance her own reputation both as a budding journalist and as a ‘‘good’’ daughter. She had, after all, been the only third-grader to have a story published in the school newspaper by capitalizing on the victim status of the school’s principal, Mr. Harmon, who suffered shell shock during World War I. She hopes to do the same with Billy.

When Billy and Rhoda discover the child pornography, Rhoda sees the children in the pictures primarily as prey: ‘‘They looked like earthworms, all naked like that. They looked like something might fly down and eat them. It made me sick to think about it. . . .’’ A few months later when Rhoda thinks she has spotted the man whose basement contained the offensive material, she fears that she herself will become his next victim.

Racing home to tell her mother about the man, Rhoda is confronted with the news that Japan has been devastated by an American nuclear attack— the potential victimizers have themselves become victims of an atom bomb. As Rhoda ponders her violent father’s return from the war, she falls asleep and dreams of bombing Japan as...

(The entire section is 527 words.)