One would think that waiting for death in the bitter cold of late winter is about as grim as a life can be. But when you are depressed and dirt poor, living in a ramshackle old house that leaks cold air, with a daughter-in-law in the house that you dislike intensely -- and who wants you out of the house whenever possible -- things are seriously awful. For Leah, who has vivid memories of how life used to be in Estonia, her misery is compounded by her confused mind. Author Morgan does a splendid job of portraying Leah's misery -- and the reality of Leah's life beyond Leah's twisted approach to what life she has left -- through three main themes and symbols: colors, sounds, and death. Also incorporated into the short story is Leah's total lack of motivation, her cynical view of the people around her, the conflict she experiences -- which she no doubt exaggerates because Morgan does not provide any scenes that suggest the grandchildren and Ruth are really that annoying. In fact towards the end of the story Morgan lets readers know that Leah "…didn't really know much about her grandchildren." While the story is depressing in many aspects for the reader, at the end of the story there is a sense of hope, there are trees being planted and an old gray warehouse is torn down so the view from Leah's son's house is of the land and not just a boring, drab building next door.
Colors -- Light and Dark
The use of colors -- and of light and dark -- in this short story is an extremely effective use of theme and symbolism. In a short story that is only nine pages, the author needed to pack in as many effective images as possible through the creative use of language to maximize the impact on the reader's consciousness. In this story, color is frequently present in the narrative. Leah has just awakened on another cold winter's morning but the light of morning wasn't what woke her up because there wasn't much daylight available in her bedroom. In the second sentence of the story readers are treated to the ugly image of "a pale greenish light" that doesn't come into the room like ordinary light but in fact it "slithered down" from the roof of the pathetic house. Leah's hair isn't just gray, it is "yellow-gray" which adds an almost witch-like portrayal. The light in her room is also "dingy green" -- a depressing image. But Leah still had a good memory, and she could recall the "…pattern of green leaves against a blue sky" in Estonia, and there was the "amber glow of firelight on stone walls" and fields of "wheat" and girls wearing "red kerchiefs" tending the wheat. These images are pastoral and provide a familiar break from the depression for Leah, and make her feel good. Juxtaposed next to her pleasant imagery of "leaves in sunshine" in Estonia is the "naked bulb hung from a twisted black cord" in the kitchen. This almost sounds like the gallows; "hung" is an effective word to suggest death by hanging; and "black cord" could be thought of as the noose that goes around the neck. That naked bulb gives of a "hard, yellow glare" and it provides enough light to show "grease mark" in the "motley wallpaper." The sink is "rust-colored" (another depressing image) and daughter-in-law Ruth doesn't just put on lipstick; she looked in the "cracked mirror to slash a red line across her mouth" which almost suggests a knife cutting into skin to open up a flow of blood. If Leah had the tools for knitting, she might knit "a bright wool afghan for her bed," but that is just a fantasy. With her hot tea and her feet in the oven, she turns off the naked bulb ("that terrible light") and enjoys peace with the "pleasant glow of the fire" that softens the "harsh look of poverty." When Leah gets outside, she sees the drab warehouse is gone and now "sunlight would come in" and there would be "grass" like "rich people" enjoy, and a garden with flowers (tulips, petunias, and "big orange colored chrysanthemums") -- a wonderful series of images that all include color. Even leaves that turn color when seasons change.