The primary theme of "Tears, Idle Tears" by Elizabeth Bowen is a boy's coming of age through acceptance of emotions. Other themes include the weight of expectations and the different ways in which people deal with tragedies.
The two main characters in "Tears, Idle Tears" are Frederick and his mother, Mrs. Dickinson. Frederick is seven years old, and his father died five years prior to the story. Mrs. Dickinson remained calm while her husband was dying, and since that time she has become almost emotionless to deal with her loss.
Due to the death of her husband, Mrs. Dickinson's son Frederick becomes the man in her life. Despite his young age, she expects him to carry himself as she believes a man should. Frederick often cries without knowing the reason, and this disappoints his mother. Frederick then feels ashamed.
While Frederick is crying at the park, his mother walks ahead of him and tells him to catch up after he gets his emotions under control. A young woman on a bench then tries to comfort him. Her approach contrasts with Mrs. Dickinson's, who makes Frederick feel bad for having these emotions. The young woman's caring, understanding approach helps Frederick accept his emotions and realize there is nothing wrong with them.