29 pages 58 minutes read

Susan Sontag

The Way We Live Now

Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1986

A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more.

Symbols & Motifs


When Quentin worries that having too many flowers in his hospital room is depressing the protagonist, Kate offers to vary her sympathy gift and brings chocolate instead at Max’s suggestion. The consumption of chocolate in “The Way We Live Now” becomes a symbol of overindulgence and the lack of self-control. The more the protagonist consumes chocolate, the more anxious his friends become, quickly coming to loathe the sight of him “gobbling that damned chocolate” (Paragraph 4). His initial weight loss prompted their concern for their friend’s health prior to his diagnosis, because they viewed his unexplained thinness as a sign of illness. However, while he is hospitalized, they become concerned about his overeating of sweets and begin to advocate for a return to thinness as a sign of health and wellness.

The doctor sees no harm in the protagonist’s chocolate consumption, demonstrating that this is not a health-related issue. Subconsciously, the friends believe that when he eats chocolate, the protagonist demonstrates the same kind of “indulgence” that they blame for his current state; they equate his unrestrained consumption of dessert with what they perceive as an overly-indulgent sex life that led to his AIDS diagnosis.