I found the story "Tangerine" in One More For the Road to be compelling, as well as unique in theme among Bradbury stories.
You're right. The theme seems to be pretty unique in the Bradbury canon; on the other hand, there appear to be several themes here. I have kept mostly to Bradbury's Sci-Fi themed stories, so am not very familiar with his themes in other literary types he has indulged in.
One of the big themes is the question of self-definition. The narrator tell us that he is alone, but feels good about himself; but the overall tone of the story seems to be one of ambiguity, isolation and unhappiness. In literature, when the narrator claims something that is a contradiction to the tone, you have to wonder if he's being ironic, honest, self-deceptive, or what.
In their (the narrator and the waiter) rememberances about the age of 19, those recollections are pretty much undefined, lost, and open to any major influence -- even if it is only "hot air".
It's also interesting that the theme of anonymity comes up in the fact that none of the characters really have names -- other than nicknames or temporary names. If they had any sense of who they were, they could use a consistent name, but without that sense, any temporary, ethereal name will do. Bradbury does wrestle with the theme of anonymity verses connection in much of his writing. He is not alone -- either in Sci-Fi or literature in general -- in dealing with that theme. It seems to be one of the fundamental issues of a person defining himself (or herself). In a humorous way, it shows up in the movie, "Ants", where the principle ant character (Woody Allen) is in therapy complaining that because he is one of 7 million (or whatever) siblings, he doesn't know where he fits, and the balance of that movie deals with issues of fitting or not fitting into one's prevailing society.
I don't remember the theme of homosexuality as being something Bradbury has dealt with, but I certainly am open to correction by other participants on whether or not that is correct. It's interesting that he shows it as something that is a burden to the character (Sonny/Tangerine), without any joy or pleasure balancing that out. He doesn't seem to be making a statement about the morality of homosexuality -- either good or bad -- but does seem to show that in this character's mind, it makes him isolated from the prevailing culture of his day.
Another theme that comes up in this story is the idea of waiting. "It was as if they have been waiting all summer for something, anything, to happen. For someone to tell them where and who they were, and where to go." Again, I do see this idea coming up in some of Bradbury's work. Part of being human appears to be waiting for things to happen, waiting for awareness to develop, waiting for self-identity to be defined. This is certainly true in my life, and I'm well beyond 19.
Relationships are important in Bradbury's work. In "Something Wicked This Way Comes", the relationships between Will and Jim and the boys and Will's father are critical and redeeming elements of the story. In Tangerine, none of the relationships ever really become concrete and/or significant. This is a significant part of what carries the sense of alienation/isolation in the story. There are not real social/personal connections.
The comment that we all have mirrors and that mirrors are kinds of Rorschach tests mean that we see what we want to see when we look, or that we are only able to see what we are capable of seeing. Sonny, can't see himself as being valuable (in large part due to his "fairy god-mother" status), and so the mirror doesn't help him find fullness or completion. The other aspect of the mirror relative to self-image is that a mirror, by definition, only deals in temporary and "virtual" images. It is not real or substantial.
Sonny also lives with the idea that his life is over at 30, that there is no future for him, and that there is no place for him in society. In the end, we are led to understand (through hearsay) that he committed suicide on his 30th birthday.
In the end, the narrator can remember the words and music to the song "Tangerine" (a favorite of Sonny/Tangerine), but that is all that is left.
You're right, Lance, it is an interesting story with a unique twist. There appear to be a lot of themes buried in here. Thanks for flagging it. When I saw your posting, it caused me to go back and read it more carefully.
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