The main theme of this powerful text is identified in the epigraph that begins the story. This is actually a quote from a song cycle written by the author prior to writing the book, but it clearly identifies the theme that governs this text: that of home and the difficulty of pinning down precisely what "home" is and where it may be:
Whose house is this? Whose night keeps out the light In here? Say, who owns this house? It’s not mine. I dreamed another, sweeter, brighter with a view of lakes crossed in painted boats; Of fields wide as arms open for me. This house is strange. Its shadows lie. Say, tell me, why does its lock fit my key?
Through the central character Frank Money and his return to the States after his involvement in the Korean war, Morrison turns her attention to the concept of home and the difficulties there can be in trying to locate and define thie term. The quote identifies the feeling that Frank himself experiences when he returns to his home town, that "home" is not any more "home," because of the strangeness that he experiences and feels as he returns there. Note the personification of the shadows in the quote as actively deceiving the speaker. This is of course the experience of Frank as he tries to make a life for himself after his involvement in the war and struggles against losing his mind and the other various difficulties he encounters. What the central theme of this novel is therefore is the problematic meaning of home and its impact on our lives.