Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

In her critical biography of Reynolds Price, Constance Rooke suggests that Price’s work is characterized by two conflicting problems, which very much influence his themes and his resolution of those themes. According to Rooke, Price wrestles with the paradox of how one can live a solitary existence without longing for the company of others. People who escape their solitary situations, ironically, quickly realize that they have sacrificed much of their individuality and personal autonomy.

Kate Vaiden is a striking example of Rooke’s contention, reached three years before the publication of Kate Vaiden. Kate wants, even seeks, love. Every time she allows her heart to become involved with someone else, however, that person leaves her, not infrequently through the most permanent departure of all—death. By the time Kate is eighteen, she loses the four people who mean the most to her.

Rather than jeopardize her emotions again. Kate allows relationships to progress just to the point that they might stand a chance of permanence; then she withdraws. Whitfield Eller begins to think romantically of Kate, but after Douglas kills himself, she takes Eller to the Great Smoky Mountains and leaves him with his aunt.

Kate has a romance with a veteran returned from World War II. Shortly before they are to marry, she tells him her whole life story, which causes him to flee. After she returns to Raleigh as a legal secretary, Kate ceases...

(The entire section is 450 words.)