To be Lessened is not to be Lesser

Why should he not do or say weird things or look strange or disgusting…Why should those he loved not lift and bend and feed and wipe him, when he would gladly do the same for them? He’d been afraid to be lessened by the lifting and bending and feeding and wiping…and yet, at the same time saw that there could still be many…drops of goodness…ahead…and those drops…were not—had never been–his to withhold

Tenth of December, 249

George Saunders’s short story “Tenth of December” tells a tale of an elderly man suffering from a terminal illness and his fight for survival alongside a young, peculiar boy. Don Eber–the elderly man–begins the story on a mission to end his life prematurely. His illness has rendered him partially disabled and causes him not to be himself at times. Furthermore, Don’s father had the same disease and left Don with a considerable amount of childhood trauma. Finding it extremely difficult to cope with his condition–especially since he sees how it plays out through his father, he sought to wander out alone in the cold and escape the pain of feeling like a lesser human being.

However, Don finds himself saving a young boy’s life despite significantly unfavorable odds. This interaction restores Don’s will to live, and he ends up getting saved by the boy’s mother. As he reflects on the meaning of his life and what is important to him, he has a pivotal realization. Just because he has lost the ability to properly care for himself due to his illness does not make him any worse or less of a person. He thinks of his wife and kids caring for him, and how they know he would do the same for any one of them. He realizes that it was more the fear of being inept that was weighing down him rather than actually being less capable. If both Don and his family can accept the reality of the situation while also realizing Don’s human dignity and value remains untainted by the disease, Don should be able to live his last days with a degree of comfort and contentment. The story fortunately ends with no one being seriously harmed and Don and his family on a emotionally healthy trajectory.

2 thoughts on “To be Lessened is not to be Lesser


    This is a great and poignant explanation of his realization. I think the title of this also does a really good job of conveying the weight of Don’s epiphany.


  2. Ben K

    I really like this analysis; I like the insight about Don’s fear of ineptness before realizing that it doesn’t matter that much in the face of the situation, definitely a really important part of the story.

    Liked by 1 person

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