Social Concerns / Themes
In her 1974 preface to the Swallow Press edition of Cities of the Interior, Nin writes that although none of her novels were planned ahead, she conceived of Ladders to Fire (1946) as "part of a larger design." Her only preconception was that it was to be "a study of women." Indeed, the theme of all of these novels could be seen as the lyrical expression of the female sensibility, of women's views on, and search for, love, liberation and self-expression. They are not novels of ideas or specific social protests. During the social unrest of the 1960s Nin was often claimed by various groups as a spokeswoman for their particular causes. But Nin's protest runs deeper. Her sharp disagreement with what she termed the "so-called realists," their too literal transcription of reality and their masculine bias, began much earlier and has ramifications which carry far beyond any specific political issue. Nin's work has its origins in her belief that there have been very limited expressions of the feminine perspective and sensibility in society in general and in literature in particular.
Each novel of Cities of the Interior focuses on the experiences of a different woman in her quest to discover a sense of self and achieve harmony between her needs and desires and the realities of the exterior world. All the major female characters appear in the first novel. As they are more fully developed in the later novels, they come to represent various aspects of the female psyche and convey a sense of development and self-discovery through their interactions with others and the acting out of their fantasies. Nin herself has written that, "The quest of the self through the intricate maze of modern confusion is the central theme of my work."
How this quest is presented reflects another of Nin's major themes: Reality cannot be perceived or presented accurately solely through rational faculties. The artist must weave the images and insights of dreams, fantasies and reverie together with the language of logic and literal description if she is to present a view of reality that is both true and open to the senses. Cities of the Interior is rich in suggestive imagery which eludes critical deciphering. She purposefully blurs the distinction between the characters' longings and their actions, between their daily lives and their desires, in order to present a reality which must be felt as well as analyzed, experienced as well as understood.