Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The controlling theme of Dusty Answer is loss of innocence, which in Judith’s case is accompanied by disillusionment. Judith, alone in a world of her own making, which, in her early life, is intruded upon by no one except her governess and the Fyfe cousins, is a person of unusually delicate sensibilities. Her childhood has in many ways been idyllic, so that she is not really in any way prepared for the world that she will meet outside the narrow confines of Fieldhead, her home on the banks of the River Thames.

A sustained image in the novel is that of a cherry tree, which figures in the story seven times. Its first three appearances are in part 2 of Dusty Answer. The tree is first mentioned in relation to Judith’s receiving word of her father’s illness. She looks at the portrait of him as a young man, and doing so makes her feel close to him. She looks out the window to see the lone cherry tree, which she describes as miraculous. It is in full bloom.

Roddy comes to take Judith to a fireworks display, and it is there that she first meets Tony Baring. When Martin brings her home from the display, she breaks a sprig from the cherry tree and gives it to him, telling him that cherry blossoms grow from the seeds of enchantment. Martin leaves, and then she learns of her father’s death. A faint glow in the night air catches the cherry tree, which is pale and clear. The tree seems to rise toward her, leading her to expect a vision of her...

(The entire section is 415 words.)