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Leavitt, David. "Gravity".

Summary & Analysis

The story is set in New Jersey, probably in 1980s. Theo is dying of AIDS and his mother Sylvia Greenman assists him with his needs. He is choosing between a drug that would save his sight and another that would keep him alive. He chooses not to go blind. He recalls an incident from his childhood when he was twelve and did not want to admit that he needed glasses. He was with his mother in New York to see Fiddler on the Roof and she lent him her own big harlequin glasses. He was fascinated by the sharp contours and colours he could see and his mother protected him from people staring at his ugly glasses.

His mother keeps on protecting him even now. She assists him with the efficiency of a nurse and tender love of a mother. She is deliberately cheerful and takes him out every day. Again she protects him from the people staring at his thinness and his cane. One afternoon in May they go shopping an engagement gift for Theo’s cousin Howard. Sylvia insists on buying something spectacular and expensive to revenge on Howard’s mother who gave Theo a worthless gift of a cheap pen-and-pencil set for his graduation. Sylvia is warmly welcomed by the two male shop assistants in the gift shop, but her sick son is received very coldly. She chooses a large crystal bowl, very expensive. She admires it, though Theo does not like the thing, and suddenly she picks up the bowl and tosses it at Theo. The men grasp and Theo manages to catch it, bowing under its weight. Sylvia purchases the bowl.

Theo wonders how much harm his illness is doing to his mother, though she would of course never admit any. He wonders what she was testing by tossing the fragile bowl at him. Was it his newly regained sight? Was it just to make sure that he is still alive? He caught the bowl sooner than he could realize what was happening. When he looked at his mother with the bowl in his hands, she was smiling a broad smile, ‘as if, in the war between heaviness and shattering, he’d just helped her win some small but sustaining victory’.


  • Author

    Leavitt, David. (b. 1961).
  • Full Title

  • First Published

    In: A Place I’ve Never Been. NY: Penguin, 1990.
  • Form

    Short Story.

Works Cited

Leavitt, David. ‘Gravity’. The Oxford Book of American Short Stories. Ed. Joyce Carol Oates. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992. 741-5.


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