Structure

Title

The title of the short story “A Small, Good Thing” by Raymond Carver is both literal and symbolic. In the literal sense, the title is taken from something the baker says towards the end of the story. Having just learned that the Weisses’ son Scotty has died, he says to the Weisses: “ ‘Eating is a small, good thing in a time like this,’ he said.” The baker then offers them fresh cinnamon rolls. Note that the Weisses do not appear to eat while Scotty is in the hospital, although Dr. Francis encourages them to do so. They also encourage each other to eat several times, but neither of them feels hungry. 

The fact that the Weisses are not hungry and refuse to eat is symbolic for how their entire lives have been put on hold while they are waiting for Scotty to wake up. This hints at the state of uncertainty in which they are living. After Scotty dies, the fact that they can eat provides them with a short break from what has happened. The baker’s words suggest that eating is a good thing to do for oneself in a time of hardship. Besides drawing energy from food, the act of eating can bring some form of consolation when grief has taken over.

The symbolic meaning of the title is further suggested in the way the baker breaks the dark bread and shares it with the Weisses. The language used by the author suggests that the scene has a hidden spiritual meaning: “They smelled it, then he had them taste it. It had the taste of molasses and coarse grains. They listened to him. They ate what they could. They swallowed the dark bread”. This might remind readers of the Holy Communion, the Christian ritual in which the priest offers followers bread which is believed to be or represent the body of Christ. The moment is doubly symbolic, as the word “communion” itself is defined as an act of sharing and giving mutual support. This adds a deeper meaning to the moment shared by the baker and the Weisses, a moment in which they are able to share their troubles and ease their suffering by connecting to each other. The scene suggests a sense of h...

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