Bellow makes the character of Morris Selbst enough of a likeable rouge that readers can easily see why his son would be willing to forgive his crimes and try to help him improve. Morris may be considered a hero of the work because he is a sympathetic main character: certainly, he is something of a hero to his son, Woody. But he has many personal qualities that are less than heroic in the traditional sense. He is vain, petty, dishonest, greedy, and crude, to name just a few of his unattractive characteristics. Because he subverts the standard expectations of a hero, Morris functions as an antihero, making readers question their own expectations of what a hero is and does.
Traditional fiction often provides a protagonist with a foil, a character who is the opposite of the main character and whose traits contrast with the protagonist at every turn. The foil underscores the protagonist by striking a sharp contrast to him. In other words, the contrast between the two makes both more clear as it underscores the protagonist’s nature. Woody is a foil for Morris. Woody cares for his extended family, while Morris abandons his for a new life with his mistress. Woody accepts financial support to go to seminary, but he hesitates at the thought of his father borrowing money from his benefactor. When the two visit the Skoglund mansion their contrasting personalities are dramatized by their fight, which includes their wrestling with each other on the floor. This contrast played out this way makes each personality clearer to readers.
The French word denouement means “unraveling.” In literature, it generally refers to the part of a story that follows the climax, when the tense situations are settled and loose ends are wrapped up. The main part of “A Silver Dish” revolves around the object of the title. The story’s climax may be seen as the fight that takes place between Woody and Morris, to keep him from stealing the dish; or it might be Woody’s dismissal from the seminary and his steadfast decision not to blame his father; or maybe the old man’s confession, later, that he took the dish, and his explanation that it was probably good for Woody that he did. Regardless of what one interprets as the story’s climax, the last scene, in which Woody climbs into his father’s hospital bed and holds him until he dies, is certainly the story’s denouement. It is not integral to the main action of the story, but it is appropriate to the story because it dramatizes the love Woody feels for his father and the opposition he poses to his father’s wishes. This final image conveys the son’s love and the son’s desire to prevent his father from a certain action.
Ira Mark Milne – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 22, Saul Bellow, Published by Gale Group, 2010