Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

“According to those given to such inquiry a vast range of experience lies just beyond ordinary vision.” This sentence appears on the last page of Montgomery’s Children, and it might be suggested that “just beyond ordinary vision” is where the novel takes place. Up to a point, the novel reflects ordinary vision. It offers what could be regarded as a realistic, if impressionistic, account of the fortunes and misfortunes of a black community in upstate New York but goes beyond that point. Rather than remaining within the bounds of realism, Richard Perry matter-of-factly blends elements of realism and fantasy. The presence of the fantastic in no way cancels out, or even diminishes, the real, but it may invite readers to expand notions of “reality.” This kind of blurring of the distinction between the real and the fantastic is one of the touchstones of Magical Realism.

The title of the novel focuses attention on children, and there are, to be sure, a number of children in the novel. “Children” is a word that easily lends itself to metaphorical extension, as in the familiar assertion that people are all God’s children. At any rate, relationships between parents and children, broadly rather than narrowly understood, play a crucial role in the novel.

The linked stories of Gerald and Josephine repeat the theme of a distortion in the parent-child relationship. The weight of responsibility in both cases falls on a brutal father, but in both cases the mother is complicit, at least to the extent of having failed to restrain the father’s brutality and having lived in the knowledge of it. Gerald makes repeated efforts to establish a loving relationship with his father (who has repudiated his own father, Gerald’s grandfather), but the efforts are fruitless. Josephine has killed the supposed father who violated her, and, when she exits the novel, is still searching for her real father.

Hosea has abandoned his children, and a desperate Meredith has killed their seventh child. That he was a seventh child may associate him with magic, since the number seven carries suggestions of power in folklore. His deformity, a watermelon head, may also be significant. It is a deformity, a congenital wart, that...

(The entire section is 917 words.)