Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Although it reflects the centuries’-old belief that each man had seven ages, from birth to death, Figes’ title, The Seven Ages, is ironic and constitutes a challenge. Whatever the life of an individual is, the life of the species is cyclical, not linear. The old French adage, “plus la change, plus c’est la meme chose” (the more things change, the more they stay the same), prevails more often than not: With every birth, there is hope, yet women of every time have worried that this is no world into which to bring children. Under the threat of nuclear winter, which will mean no life and no births, the continuity of the species remains in question. The repetitive cycles of human history cannot be separated from the cycles of the earth.

The juxtaposition of the voices from the past with the voices in the present results in a quietude, provoking neither rancor nor diatribe. When human beings were prey to fire, famine, politics, plague, and their own ignorance and superstition, most people were victims. As the saying went, “A witch can cure the Devil’s work, but not man’s.” Yet even when women bore children knowing that they would grow up only to kill and be killed, there were those who demonstrated courage, intelligence, and compassion. When medicine was practiced under the auspices of the Church, few people were helped and women were indubitably victimized. Yet to cease being a victim is to learn that blame is irrelevant. Women, human beings, must have power, must be free to choose, or they cannot be held responsible. With the power of choice, the difficulties remain, but the responsibility is inescapable.

The themes of alienation and lack of identity, which run throughout the novel, are finally resolved: Alienated or not, a person’s identity may be known only to his successors, may be evaluated only as his actions are perceived by succeeding generations. However muffled and confused they may sound to our own ears, our voices may speak too clearly through the hearthfires of the future.