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Richard Ford’s  “Communist” is a coming-of-age story that expresses how wisdom and age are not necessarily linked together. One does not have to have lived a long life in order to gain wisdom from life experiences. Ford’s “Communist” also examines the complexity of human relationships, as it appertains to the strained intimacy between family members as well as romantic relationships.

And how old was I then? Sixteen. Sixteen is young but it can also be an grown man. (235)

The narrator, Les, is a fatherless, adolescent boy who is caught in the middle of his mother’s relationship with her boyfriend, Glen Baxter.  Glen is a communist a real “man’s man” whom Les, throughout most of the story, admires as a father-figure. Les does not like that his mother is around him all of the time, and like most sixteen-year-old boys, Les likes his alone time. I find it extremely ironic that Les and his mother spend much of their time together (even when it is not wanted), but Les admits that he actually knows very little about his mother, “I am forty-one years old now, and I think about that time without regret, though my mother and I never talked in that way again, and I have not heard her voice in a long, long time.” (235) Les’s mother seems to be withdrawn from the world, “but she came home most days from work and stayed inside watching television in her bedroom and drinking beers.” (216) possibly because she is depressed in her relationship with Glen. Throughout the story, the reader learns that Les’s mother does not look fondly upon her relationship with Les’s father or Glen Baxter. Rather, it seems as though she views her relationship with these men as a necessity in order to have an accessible life, especially when it comes to having a father-figure for Les.

“Hunt, kill, maim. Your father did that too.” (218)  Les’s mother has become cynical of trusting men possibly because she feels as though she has been abandoned by Les’s father after his untimely death. Les’s mother does not want Les to be so trusting of Glen when Glen offers to take him hunting. Les wants to go only because he has not ever experienced a hunt before. Although Les’s father has passed away, Les is ignorant to the concept of death and killing.

While Les and Glen are shooting geese at the lake, Glen accidentally shoots down a goose he was not aiming for. “That one’s my mistake there, I shouldn’t have shot that one, Aileen.” (230) Glen will not shoot the bird to stop its suffering because he believes that the world is a place where one has to fend for oneself and should not expect to be saved by anyone. “You don’t understand the world, Aileen… This can happen. It doesn’t matter.” (231) Glen will not shoot the bird because he sees no point in ending its suffering. He views suffering as a necessary part of life, and believes that he has no right to simply take that away from another’s life. Like Les’s mother, Glen has suffered emotionally due to certain unchanging circumstances, and because of his suffering, he has a bleak outlook on life.

In the final moment between Les and his mother, Les sees his mom as person who is not just his mother, but who is also a feminine individual whom he respects. Les has had time to get to know his mother and Glen through the subtle details of what they say or how they act. Although it goes unsaid, Les learns more about his mother and understands her better after one day of viewing her interactions with Glen than he has understood about her his whole life.

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