Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 624

Tim Gautreaux’s milieu is the rural farm country of south central Louisiana. Although his characters are often down on their luck, their moral values are sound. Gautreaux writes about working-class men and women who meet a challenge to their humaneness and usually manage to handle it with courage and grace. Comparing him to Flannery O’Connor, critics have praised his stories as being morally complex in their depiction of human frailty and deceptively simple in their lyrical style.

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“Welding with Children” exhibits Gautreaux’s typical focus on a working-class man who has made a few mistakes and tries to start afresh. There is nothing shiftless about Bruton, but he does have a tendency to let things slide a bit. The reader is not given any information about how he brought up his four daughters, but the fact that each of them has an illegitimate child suggests moral laxity somewhere. The fact that his wife seems more interested in going to the local casino than helping with the grandchildren suggests that he gets no moral support from her either.

In his “Contributor’s Note” to The Best American Short Stories, 1998, Gautreaux says that Bruton is typical of grandparents all over the country who are raising their grandchildren because they did not raise their children right in the first place. However, Gautreaux is not trying to teach any social message here but to create a comic tour de force in which a grandfather is stymied by the video store and MTV influences that threaten to make his grandchildren the “white trash” that neighbors think he and his wife and daughters are.

The central section of the story is a comic dialogue between Bruton and the four children as he tries to read to them out of a Bible storybook. When he asks if their mothers read Bible stories to them at bedtime, one child says that she rented Conan the Barbarian once. When Bruton says that is not a Bible story, the child asks why not, saying, “It’s got swords and snakes in it.” This film-inspired assumption is reinforced when the children see a picture in Bruton’s book of the serpent in the Garden of Eden. When Bruton tells them the snake is the devil in disguise, one child says that is just an old song she heard on the radio.

Bruton’s decision to clean up his yard and try to teach the children by example is indicative of the rural southern notion that only white trash have lots of junk lying around in plain view. The story ends with an idyllic image of Bruton fixing the children a tire swing in the yard and putting the baby Nu-Nu in the middle of it, who will swing there like some angelic innocent while the proud grandfather looks on smiling.

This story has no intention of being realistic or socially responsible. It is simplistic of Bruton to think that by cleaning up his yard and reading the children Bible stories he will make everything right. It is unrealistic to think that putting up a tire swing will woo the children away from their videos and television shows. It is naïve to think that his four daughters will change their ways just because their father is trying to change his.

However, social realism is not what Gautreaux is after here. He simply wants to write a story about how humans hope to start anew, to be forgiven for the past, and to have possibilities to do better in the future. Although the dialogue between Bruton and the children about religion and the Bible exists primarily to give Gautreaux the opportunity for a comic encounter, the basic theme of the story is essentially Christian.

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