Where the Heart Is Themes

Themes

Not surprisingly, the most prominent theme revealed in the novel relates to the title. Sister Husband tells Novalee early on that "Home is where your history begins," and the two women eventually make a home together for themselves and Novalee's daughter, Americus. This concept of nontraditional family acts as the central theme of the novel.

Letts encourages readers to see that family means more than blood relations. The biological familial connections shown—with Novalee's Mom and Americus's dad, Willy Jack—fail completely at their roles as responsible and loving family members. The family that Novalee forms consists of Sister Husband and Mr. Sprock, Lexie, Forney Hull, and the Whitecottons. Neighbors like the Ortiz family and Henry and Leona Warner fill out the community as family circle. All these people aid Novalee in ways that a traditional family normally would by providing a home, child care, education, and spiritual fortitude. Forney Hull's dedication and loyalty to his alcoholic sister shows that family based on biology is not always the happiest and best scenario.

Another noteworthy theme of the novel is Letts's attention to class throughout the novel. Novalee represents such working-class American ideals as honesty, self-reliance, and the belief that success comes through hard work. Letts keeps social stigma and criticism out of the story by largely focusing on other characters who are in similar financial and social positions. It is only when Novalee ventures out of the protective and familiar realm that we see her recognition and acknowledgment of her place in American society. When she attends her first college photography class, she feels like an impostor, an outsider. She is defensive and scared about her right to even be on a college campus: "She had been sure she wouldn't be accepted, certain she couldn't be enrolled as a student because she hadn't even finished the tenth grade. But her enrollment papers had been processed and she had a copy in her purse in case anyone wanted to see it." She thought that someone might "Demand proof that she had reason to be in such a place." Novalee's reluctance to accept a sense of entitlement to a formal education at such a level is indicative of her social class. Within this foreign community, Novalee, in addition to feeling out of place internally, makes herself conspicuous externally with her dress by appearing the way "she supposed college students dressed", which is of course completely inaccurate. Novalee's attempt to approximate her image of formally attired college students is so far off as to be comical, but deeper down, sad. Her image of the professor is also deconstructed when she appears as casually and informally dressed as the students. Letts includes such misguided notions of the "other" perhaps to exemplify how little we know about each other in America. In Novalee she presents a young girl hungry for knowledge who finally gains access to it through the unconventional avenue of Forney Hull and then who comes to her passion of photography through another marginalized and unconventional source as Moses Whitecotton. Profiling these alternate avenues to discovery and knowledge indicates that in America there are many ways to learn and many forms of education, yet Novalee's eventual acceptance in college shows the traditional mode of education that must be attained in order to gain status and legitimization...

(The entire section is 1388 words.)