Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The overriding metaphor of the novel, which develops naturally into its main theme, is introduced in the opening chapter just after Cullinane has arrived at Tell Makor. He is walking around the tell trying to decide the crucial spot to dig his two main tunnels when he notices a grove of “incredibly old” olive trees, whose age is measured in “centuries and millennia.” Yet one tree in particular, one with a rotting trunk, catches Cullinane’s attention: “A veritable patriarch whose gnarled trunk was merely a shell through which one could see many directions. The tree bore only a few branches, but these were thick with maturing olives, and as the archaeologist stood inquiringly beside the stubborn relic, he was as close to the mystery of Makor as he would ever be.” The ancient water well at Makor may have allowed the town to grow and flourish, but it is the olive trees (the same ones that Ur tended in 9831 b.c.e.) that endure, just as the Jews have endured. Their foundations and laws may be old and gnarled and dry, such as the old rabbis and their Talmud, but the new branches, those such as Eliav, Bar-El, and the kibbutzniks, are strong and getting stronger.

Michener sets up this tree, or theme, in the beginning of the novel and returns to both as each level is revealed. Makor is destroyed some five times, but the olive grove remains intact. Michener, as does Cullinane, returns to this tree in the closing chapter...

(The entire section is 543 words.)