Themes and Meanings
Demby’s narrative method in Beetlecreek is simple: He constructs a series of short chapters composed largely of dialogue. The result is a readable story that eschews any modernist techniques and relies on conventional character development and plot complication.
Beetle images occur several times, reinforcing the novel’s title, but symbolism plays no significant role in the working out of things. At one point, Johnny’s state of mind is described thus:And Black Enameled Death that he had seen represented everything of Beetlecreek and was like the restlessness and dissatisfaction of the birds, only inside him, swarming and swooping inside him, filling him with vague fear and shame, preparing him for something, telling him, warning him, separating him from things that were happening around him apart from him, pulling him along toward things he could not see or know.
The menace that Johnny senses here foreshadows the moral collapse that overtakes him finally.
Bill Trapp is a marginal man, living on the fringe of life for all of his lonely years. His childhood was marginal, with its only solace his love for his sister, Hilda. His wandering carnival years were empty except for his brief friendship with the Italian performer. After leaving the carnival, he has settled in a boundary area between the black community of Beetlecreek and the white business district of Ridgeville, a social limbo made worse by his extraordinary shyness. His comparative poverty estranges him...
(The entire section is 618 words.)