Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

The story of Arvay Meserve is the story of a woman’s quest for self-fulfillment, a quest fraught with self-imposed obstacles. A victim of her social class’s mores and values, Arvay is not a woman in charge of her own destiny. Two symbols, one natural, the other constructed, exemplify the two warring halves of Arvay’s psyche: the mulberry tree and the Henson house.

Throughout the novel, the mulberry tree grows in mythic proportions in Arvay’s mind. As a child, the tree took on an idyllic significance for Arvay. The center of her childhood play, the mulberry tree also became the vehicle for her pondering the mysteries of the universe. Peering through its strong, life-affirming branches, Arvay cannot see the heavenly figures she strains to envision. She learns then that heaven is not in the realm of her perception, that it is a long way off.

As an adolescent, the tree becomes a refuge from what Arvay thinks is an unbearable situation. She indulges in her fantasy that Carl Middleton will realize the mistake he has made by marrying ’Raine and will come back to her, kissing the hem of her garment as an act of contrition. Under its ever-blooming branches, Arvay renews her hope that she will be freed from the guilt and repression that have imprisoned her soul. Eventually, the tree becomes a sacred respite, a temple where she knows that she can find peace and spiritual sanctuary. When her sexual feelings are reawakened with the appearance of...

(The entire section is 491 words.)