Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

All the Little Live Things treats in fictional terms the growing tension between adult and adolescent in the 1960’s. Joe Allston finds himself embroiled in a number of issues, but the reader gradually realizes that more is at stake than whether Julie LoPresti should have an abortion or what will happen to the landscape around the Allston place. The central thematic controversy goes on between Joe, the narrator, and Marian Catlin, whose losing battle with breast cancer provides the strongest plot strand in the novel.

The title points the reader toward this central theme. Joe is at war with many of the “little live things” that share his garden with him. Marian, on the other hand, values all of life; her husband has even stopped fishing to avoid giving pain to the worms he once used for bait. The conflict between Joe and Marian centers on very basic questions of life and death, made more poignant by the cancer cells, “little live things” themselves, that are killing Marian even as she struggles to live long enough to deliver her second child safely, without resorting to chemotherapy or pain medication.

On another front, Joe is embroiled with the hippie guru Jim Peck. Peck claims to be a free spirit; Joe sees him as a dangerous demagogue. Peck reminds him too much of his son; again he finds his disagreement with the young person a matter of life and death.

The struggle with Tom Weld over questions of land use also...

(The entire section is 454 words.)