The Card by James Ross: Summary & Analysis

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

Author James Ross explores what happens when a father abandons his family, only to pop up years later with a cryptic message in a birthday card. In this lesson, we'll summarize and analyze the short story 'The Card.'


Ever heard of what happens to some abandoned dogs? These animals are distrustful, fearful, damaged, angry, even scared of human touch and interaction.

James Ross pens a story about abandonment and its consequences.
abandoned, card, james, ross

Though the story we're looking at in this lesson isn't about animals, it definitely is a tale about what happens when abandonment affects a home - when one person leaves or deserts the family around them. Let's examine ''The Card.''

Summary of ''The Card''

The story opens with a teenager remembering the only thing he ever got from his father: a birthday card. The card is unremarkable except for the handwritten message at the bottom, scrawled in his absent father's handwriting: ''Remember, no one's got your back.''

The boy, now 15, received the card from his father when he was just 10. He's curious about the man who abandoned their family when he was only three years old.

Asking Sister

The narrator begins by asking his sister to reminisce about their father, but determines ''she's still trippin' and I should ask her later when she's straight.'' His sister is a drug addict. He, on the other hand, is believed to be bright with a good future ahead of him.

Later, she tells him that she still loves their father, but the narrator says that he hates him. She describes the man as stern and serious. It's clear that the narrator loves and looks up to his sister, despite her junkie (drug addict) habits: ''...when she's not high or shaking 'cos she needs some stuff, she's really smart and, truth be told, she's the core of our family, the strength, believe it or not.''

Mam's Place

We learn from the narrator that his mother, whom he calls ''mam,'' is weak and a ''flake.'' He continues to explain that she is an example in ''How Not To,'' including ''How Not To bring up your children,'' ''How Not To get a good job,'' and ''How Not To attract a nice boyfriend.''

The narrator is not impressed with his mother's ability, in particular, to find a good man. A one-time boyfriend named Marc has made a pass at his sister. The narrator was unable to physically fight Marc, so he called the police to report Marc's ''twenty grams of cocaine'' stashed in the house. The police came and carted Marc to jail.

Returning to the Card

Again, the narrator goes back to thinking about the card he received from his dad when he was 10. The narrator is angry at his father for not being a parent, and for writing a message like ''Remember, no one's got your back,'' instead of being a good father. In fact, he says his father should ''unsend it.''

But, in the end, the narrator says he agrees with his father: No one's got your back.

Analyzing ''The Card''

James Ross' story is an examination of the fallout that occurs when a family breaks apart before the narrator is even old enough to realize it. The narrator is described as, ''bright, got a future,'' despite everything and everyone around him crumbling and incapable of good decision-making and responsible behaviors.

It's possible that the narrator is viewed as having a future, in part, because he was so young when his father left. He is not, at least initially, a victim of his father's senseless act that has contributed to his sister to become a drug addict and his mother to turn to worthless men for comfort.

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