Themes and Meanings
Cozzens often places at the center of his novels a mature professional man whose success demands that he accept responsibility for his community. These men have considerable authority and power over others, and the exercise of this power and their duty to wield it justly prompt most of the action. His characters are molded by their professions, and the world is presented through their eyes. Cozzens is a social realist in that he presents things as they are and does not prescribe simple resolutions for his conflicts. Moral dilemmas are explored in all their complexity: There are choices where no alternative is ideal. Indeed, Cozzens often suggests that the power to choose is an illusion, that men are the victims of fate. This Calvinist sense of predestination places Cozzens squarely in the tradition of such “dark” American novelists as Nathaniel Hawthorne and William Faulkner.
Many conflicts develop out of the conflicts between love and reason. Cozzens manifests a great respect for the traditions and established social order of the middle classes, whose virtues of rationality, self-discipline, and stability are contrasted with the irrational, undisciplined, impassioned actions of other members of the community, usually of a lower social class. Man is seen as a product of his past and as consciously influenced by it: Events from the past continually force themselves into present moments. The implication is that although time passes, man never really changes, and there is no natural progression toward perfectibility.