Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Damascus Gate is about confused men and women who live in escalating danger, emotional and physical. This story is told in three sections, a number sometimes regarded as divine. In part 1, the characters are introduced from their own perspectives, as the role of narrator keeps shifting. Personal alliances also come only gradually into focus, and the general mood is one of veiled anxiety and mistrust. Personal, political, and religious entanglements seethe with possibility and doom. In part 2, the anxiety literally heats up as the hero’s car is burned. Confusion escalates: Who is telling the “truth”? Who is really on whose side? Lucas is locked within temple grounds for an overnight vigil, symbolizing the extent to which he is in the dark and thwarted, psychologically and personally. Lucas is also imprisoned, and Raziel fades back into the oblivion of drugs. In part 3, there is some resolution and equilibrium, but it is uneasy. Sonia and Lucas consummate their passion but ultimately part. The Sufi pilgrims retreat to the mountains together but become deluded by one of their leaders and ultimately disband. Raziel falls into a coma. The plot to bomb the Muslim shrines occupying the Temple Mount is thwarted.

The time of the novel is 1992, with the year 2000 just in sight. Stone has set this novel of the anticipated new millennium—the Apocalypse, it is hinted—in the most millennial of cities, Jerusalem, where Jews, Christians, and Muslims uneasily coexist. Appropriately, Stone infuses his novel with references to ancient and modern religious texts and practices and figures, including the pre-Christian Zohar, the Jewish Torah, Kabbalistic doctrine, prayer rituals of the Nazarenes and the Gnostics, and Christian mystics such as Meister Eckhart. The belief system promoted by Raziel and DeKuff is theologically a merger of all religions, and it suggests that all religions are one. All converts appropriately wear around their necks a symbol, the ouroboros, to show their allegiance. The ouroboros depicts a snake eating its own tail, thus forming a circle with its body. As a symbol of the cult in Stone’s novel, it suggests that everything comes from nothing and nothing from everything, that the ending is the beginning and the beginning is the ending. The ouroborous is also symbolic of Stone’s narrative impulse toward circularity and the infinite.