Literary Analysis of “Gravity” by David Leavitt The following pages will consist of a literary analysis of the short story presented by the author David Leavitt, which is taken from his book “A Place I’ve Never Been” (Nguyen, 2006). “Gravity” narrates the story of a boy with AIDS, whose life is slowly consuming like the wax of a lit candle. The author presents the reader with the crudity of enduring such disease mainly from the patient’s and his mother’s perspective. The underlying intention of David Leavitt is to educate the reader about the fragility of life and how important it is to live it fully and well.
Its message is directed both to people who are undergoing some kind of disease and to people who are healthy since it represents the unpredictability of the future. “Theo had a choice between a drug that would save his sight and a drug that would keep him alive, so he chose not to go blind” is the first sentence of the story. When reading it for the first time, I was shocked to see that someone would prefer to live less while being able to see than to live more and be blind. When reading the story for the second time though, the reader can extract from this sentence the importance of living your life fully.
Theo chose quality over quantity. This first sentence also puts the reader into the perspective of a boy with AIDS, showing the kind of decisions AIDS patients may have to take. Decisions that are out of the ordinary and that no one would ever see themselves taking. The use of nouns such as “pills” and “injections” and adjectives such as “unpleasant” and “painful” already set the tone of a sad and gloomy reading. The reading continues with a flashback of Theo remembering himself and his mother Sylvia going to a show together in New York.
Back then, Theo’s eyesight was already bad, however, the author leaves it open for interpretation whether the boy was already infected with AIDS or not. Anyways, this passage also represents the pleasure that Theo went through when he was finally able to see well with his mother’s eccentric glasses. The author makes the reader feel the relief and the pleasure that Theo felt by using words such as “astonished”, “precision”, “sharp” and especially with the phrase “the world came into focus”. The short-sighted ones like me immediately feel represented by Theo and understand the sensation of being able to see well.
For the ones who have never seen the world through the eyes of a short-sighted person, this passage also serves as an explanation of why Theo chose to be able to see and live less over being blind and living more. Here, Theo’s mother is also introduced to the reader for the first time and an analogy is made between the flashback and the way she’d maneuver him around people who stared at him. Sylvia is one of the main characters of the short story and is presented as a woman who wears “harlequins with tiny rhinestones in the corners”.
She is also characterized as a caring mother who has experienced the darkness of watching her own mother dying. It is not specified in the text the reason why her mother died, but the reader can definitely sense that it did not happen from one day to another. Her mental calmness when administering the “sight-giving” medicine to his son also shows that Sylvia is a strong person who keeps fighting until the end of his Theo’s life while he, the protagonist of the story, seems to be hopeless.
The author shows this lack of hope when he says “his life, sometimes he thought”. The setting of a hospital also contributes to the feeling that all hope is gone but the most evident sign of despair is “the unswimmable gulf between him and the eve-receding shoreline of the well” Both Sylvia and Theo are round, complex characters that are unpredictable and capable of change. Due to the short length of the story though, the reader cannot yet tell whether the main characters remain static or become dynamic.
The next paragraphs of the story reveal some secondary characters such as Theo’s cousin Howard, who is having and engagement party in the future; Bibi, who I assume is Sylvia’s sister; and the two gentlemen that work in the shop where the next part of the plot takes action: Mr. Sherman and Mr. Baker. All these secondary characters are flat and most likely static. The reader can immediately feel the tension between Sylvia and Bibi through the words “shopping for revenge”. The apparent cause of this tension is a tacky graduation gift that Bibi gave to Theo some time ago; however there eems to be a bigger unresolved, long-lasting conflict between the two ladies that might have been accentuated by the paradox that while Theo is dying, his cousin is celebrating. The protagonist and his mom arrive in a shop in the search of a “something truly spectacular for Howard’s engagement” to “make Bibi blanch”. When the mother asks his son for advice, Theo’s response has a connotative interpretation. What he is really trying to convey is that Sylvie should not buy such a spectacular gift if her real intentions are to get Bibi back.
Once again, in this part of the story the author remarks the pessimistic approach that Theo has and contrasts it with the insatiable efforts of his mom trying to pretend that there is nothing wrong. When she says “You live and learn” he replies “You live” and she replies back “Well, look, here we are”. Touches of black humor makes the reader smile and then feel sorry when Theo says that the advantage to the situation is that they can park in handicapped places. It seems like Mr. Sherman and Mr.
Baker, workers of the gift shop, already knew Sylvie from previous visits. The dialogue held between mother and son in the shop and the way they treat the crystal bowl that she wants to buy for Howard, is a clear example of symbolism. The author uses the crystal bowl as a representation of life, being extremely valuable yet extremely fragile. Her tossing it to Theo like a football represents her persistent efforts to encourage his son to live longer and somehow her unwillingness to accept the critical situation they are both going through.
No matter how hard she tried to keep negative thoughts from her mind, it was obvious to Theo that the whole situation was secretly causing her some sort of internal damage. In conclusion, this short story is a gloomy narration of the last days of a terminal AIDS patient and his mother, who resists to give up on her efforts to make her son live to the fullest. The third person narrator puts the reader into the shoes of Theo and his mother, and makes us appreciate life and what is most important, being healthy.
The use of resources such as analogies, flashbacks and symbolism all contribute to the creation of a sad and intriguing plot. Furthermore, the words have been carefully picked to trigger certain sensations in the reader’s mind. The story concludes with an open ended doubt that makes the reader think about the deeper meaning of the actions of the characters. Reference Porter Shreve and B. Minh Nguyen, 2006. Gravity. In: 30/30 Thirty American Stories from the Last Thirty Years. New York: Penguin Academics, pp. 204-208.