Themes

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 296

The marriage of Celestial and Roy seems destined for a long, happy duration. This young African American couple is well matched, as both partners are highly educated and able to pursue careers that they value and which, if their good fortune holds, will also be quite lucrative. But luck does not always stay with those who expect or deserve it, Tayari Jones confirms; the combination of caprice and injustice destroys their current happiness and their dreams of a future together. The themes of racial and social injustice dominate the novel, as Ray is mistakenly identified, tried, and convicted of rape. In addition, the theme of spousal loyalty in the face of adversity carries through the entire book. And although bad luck is clearly a factor in Roy’s plight—as it could easily have happened to a different black man—the relative evaluation of misfortune is also a theme—as he might easily have been killed.

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After Roy begins a twelve-year-sentence and the likelihood of a successful appeal disappears, husband and wife must face that each of them will have a distinct experience during his incarceration and after his release. The theme of the permanent disfigurement of prison on both the person inside and the partner waiting outside also holds the book together. While understanding that her emotional journey pales in comparison to the suffering that Roy experiences inside prison, Celestial wrestles with her guilt both at living free and enjoying professional success. The challenges that all families of incarcerated persons face is a constant thread, even as the author reminds the reader that for African Americans, a higher percent of men are serving sentences, which means a higher percentage of their wives or partners are waiting for them—or decide no longer to do so.

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