Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The discovery of self through the acceptance of tribal traditions is a central theme of Allen’s novel. The frequency of tribal stories appearing in the main text increases from the beginning of the novel to the end, just as Ephanie’s comprehension of the connections between her life and the stories of the goddess women of her Guadalupe people increases. Her path toward self-discovery is established once she performs her own rite of exorcism and begins sweeping away the alien gods in her life, namely Thomas at this point. Spider, the goddess Grandmother, becomes increasingly more powerful in her consciousness. Ephanie attempts suicide only to discover in herself a fierce will to live; her life-affirming self wins over her destructive self. Her understanding deepens. She sees the blooming apple tree of light as the tree in her own childhood, and she sees Sky Woman, who in her “arrogance and brightness” had taken a fall, as herself, who had experienced her own childhood fall. She discovers that the stories exist to fit into life, that all along the stories were tied to the suppressed stories of her own existence.

Although at the beginning of the novel she was disoriented, by the end of the novel Ephanie unifies herself and realizes the tribal notion of time as inner harmony. She understands the combinations and recombinations that had so puzzled her. The visualization of reality as a coherent whole—a web of interwoven events, humans, and spirits—connects Ephanie to her people, tribal reality, and ritual ways.

The last prologue tells of how Spider will seduce the uninitiated into her cave and never free them if they do not have “the special protection that only knowledge can give.” Ephanie reaches understanding and learns the knowledge that is necessary for the “initiated.” She overcomes the absence of ritual teaching in her childhood and discovers, through the tribal narratives she integrates with her own life, the element of ritual tradition within herself. The experiences and stories of the past become a timeless part of the current moment, in which ritual past is the nurturing life force of the present.