Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The love theme is unquestionably the most important of several themes interwoven in this richly symbolic story. The author not only demonstrates through her characters her distinctive view of love relationships but also, at one point in the novel, digresses into a brief essay on the nature of love and how it affects people who love and are loved. She distinguishes the lover, who is free to love and to demonstrate this love and is thus in control of the relationship, from the beloved, who is in danger of being possessed by the lover. The lover is the happier one in the relationship always, and the beloved fears and even hates the lover.

There is no place for reciprocal relationships in this concept of love. Marvin Macy loves Amelia and she rejects him. Amelia loves Lymon and he uses and finally attacks her. Lymon loves Marvin, but Marvin despises and abuses Lymon. Love is a pleasure for the lover as long as the beloved will tolerate the lover. For the beloved, the relationship is no pleasure at all, and the only reason to tolerate it is for some perceived material gain.

A very insistent theme is that of isolation. The town is isolated, Amelia is isolated in many ways from the other people of the town, Marvin Macy was isolated in prison, the members of the chain gang are isolated from other people in society, Lymon is isolated by his handicap and ill health. All attempt to overcome the isolation by love, social intercourse with other people, and...

(The entire section is 529 words.)