Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Solstice explores the fear of death and the fear of living alone, and it explores the question of who determines one’s identity. Monica moves from an abusive relationship with her husband—who caused the scar that she often fingers on her chin as well as quite a few emotional scars—into another abusive relationship with Sheila Trask in an effort to find an identity and a meaning for her life.
Solstice also confronts the questions of suicide and of what it really means to take control of one’s death, and thus one’s life. Sheila seems to understand the meaning of control, and she speaks openly of suicide as a viable option when she becomes “fed up” with living. In this way, she copes with her frustrations as an artist, reminding herself that she does not need to continue to live if she chooses not to. Suicide for Sheila seems to be an excuse to go on living; it gives her a chance to see what will happen, knowing that there is outlet if she does not like the outcome.
Monica, however, sees suicide as an escape. She often worries that Sheila will kill herself, and toward the end of the novel, she contemplates suicide as an escape from her illness. Although she is unable to commit the act, she constantly reflects on her razor blades and focuses on them as a means of ending her misery.
Keith Renwick, on the other hand, sees suicide as a selfish act, meant to punish those who are left behind. Although Keith is only a minor character, Keith puts the idea of suicide into perspective. He tells Monica that she should get away from anyone whom she knows who is contemplating suicide. He suggests that considering suicide shows an inability to focus on anything but oneself and thus is a sign of an unhealthy individual. Monica does not reflect on this conversation, but it is interesting to note that she does not seriously consider suicide until she is utterly alone and incredibly ill.