Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Dorothy and Solomon share little in their life histories, circumstances, or views of the world, but they are united in the depth of their loneliness. Dorothy’s tract house lies at the end of a cul-de-sac. She says that she is glad she lives there but, as events unfold, the irony in Dorothy’s opinion becomes evident. The cul-de-sac is neither the vantage point nor the safe haven she believes it to be, but rather is a metaphor for the dead end that is Dorothy’s life.

The path that took her to this dead end was one of abandonment. Her husband deserted her to run away to Spain with another woman. During the same time, Dorothy lost her sister to cancer. Her affair with Mahmood was short-lived, sinking rapidly from passion into indifference. Her brief liaison with Geoff Waverley was equally unsatisfying, and it cost her her job.

Abandonment of a different sort stalks Solomon, for he is forced to leave all that he knows and loves. He escapes the ravages of war in Africa only to fall victim to the more subtle but equally lethal forces of racism. Refugee Gabriel dreamed of a different England, where amicable prosperity united all. Immigrant Solomon finds instead an England where passersby study the ground as they walk, avoiding eye contact. English people are strangers, Solomon observes, and they are determined to stay strangers.

Both Solomon and Dorothy had a place in the world. Both lost it through abandonment, betrayal, dashed hopes, and ravaged dreams. Cautiously, they reach out to each other, but connectedness is denied them. Solomon loses his life to racist violence. Dorothy loses hers to mental illness.