Last Updated on August 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 344
There are many themes that run through the novel A Book of Common Prayer by Joan Didion. This tale follows two American expatriate women as they act as foils for one another. The elder, Grace Strasser-Mendana, who trained as an anthropologist and a biochemist, studies and observes the life and...
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- Critical Essays
There are many themes that run through the novel A Book of Common Prayer by Joan Didion. This tale follows two American expatriate women as they act as foils for one another. The elder, Grace Strasser-Mendana, who trained as an anthropologist and a biochemist, studies and observes the life and actions of the younger, more innocent Charlotte Douglas and realizes the similarities in their different lives, drawing them closer together. This allows Didion to easily explore her themes and the relationships between the characters.
Grace and Charlotte have similar family lives to an extent, and their worlds are shaped by their relationships. Charlotte has escaped an abusive husband who left her with a rebellious, revolutionary daughter, only for her to marry a weapons trafficking man who disguises himself as a lawyer and conceives with her a daughter who will die of fatal birth defects. In spite of the fact that her first daughter has run away and her second has passed away, Charlotte's Visa application lists "Mother" as her occupation. Likewise, Grace is the widow of a powerful, elite man from Boca Grande, and she has a son who has turned to political sedition and rebellion, just like Charlotte's daughter, Marin.
Not only is there massive political upheaval going on constantly in the novel, but that upheaval is symbolic of the upheaval the women experience in their own lives. Their children have left them for dangerous and illegal pursuits, and their husbands have either died or are dying (or are doing other illegal activities), throwing the women into massive disarray in their personal lives. This is exacerbated by Grace's terminal cancer and, eventually, by Charlotte's sudden demise.
Power and Control
The country of Boca Grande is experiencing massive shifts in power and control, and so are Grace and Charlotte. Charlotte once lived with an abusive and controlling husband, and her second husband is not much better. Grace, likewise, was married to a member of the wealthy, ruling elite, and so he commanded a great deal of power both in his house and in the country.