+ What's the significance of the title?
Jerry’s mind is bound to wander back to younger, if not better, times – most of which were devoted to herding longhorn cattle.
+ What role does the setting play in the story?
The house on the prairie gives an impression of being far removed from everything else. Sure, there are neighbors nearby, but they are unavailable. Jerry is out of reach and far above all help for that Saturday night. His prison may be a gilded one, but it’s a prison, nonetheless.
+ What is the main character's conflict? Not just the physical, obvious one?
Jerry’s mind is full of ideas. His heart is full of compassion. Yet he cannot follow-through with his thoughts and concern, so he tries to distract himself from his current situation. His efforts are unsuccessful because he cannot physically remove himself from the situation, so he then tries to come to terms with it by looking over at Berta May. Round and round he goes with this, trying to find some comfort, some way out, some solution, but eventually all he can do is wait to be rescued, himself.
+ The writer is an art lover. How does that translate into his writing if at all?
The writing was very visual. The descriptions were long and quite detailed. You could see him paint one word-picture after another and you felt like you were right there in the tub, on the horse, etc.
+ What are we to make of his dream?
Our dreams often mirror the stresses in our lives. They help us dissect our problems and process them so that they do not destroy us. Obviously, death was a huge issue for Jerry at that time. Perhaps the whore symbolized the desire he felt for young Berta May – a desire that was now, in more ways than one, deceased. Finally, I think the part with the cattle and the quicksand was emblematic of his inability to rescue the helpless girl on the floor, as well as a representation of his loss upon her passing – like a part of him had been ripped away.
+ What does the story say about getting older?
Jerry’s body may have gotten old and crippled, but his mind is as sharp as ever, as young as always. That is why he reminisces so about his days as a cowboy. They weren’t fun, in retrospect, but they were exciting and just the very act of being YOUNG was full of pleasure and exhilaration. Most of us wouldn’t trade the wisdom age brings us for the virility of youth, but when we were young enough not to know better, waking up every day was an adventure.
+ Talk about the story's last line.
Jerry cared about the young woman who took care of him. There was nothing he could do to save her, nothing more he could do for her upon her death, accept give her body the respect and priority she deserved. I think he was also feeling ornery, like if he couldn’t get himself out of the tub, he’d just die there. He may have also been feeling guilty to have lived so long that he could no longer take care of himself, while his very young caretaker, a young lady who SHOULD have had her whole life ahead of her, lay dead on the bathroom floor. Perhaps he simply preferred to sit there and mourn her passing a while longer.