Themes and Meanings

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The principal theme of the novel is the passion of the Jews to establish their homeland, where they can live in dignity and freedom. Indeed, this is the focus of the entire novel, and all other themes are tributaries to this mighty central conviction. The book becomes an epic of the founding of a nation, with the heroics appropriate to an epic. The scale is vast, spanning centuries of time, from the dispersal of the Jews two thousand years ago to the year 1949, when Israel not only was established but also won itsright to existence through battle. The religious theme of fulfillment of prophecy is emphasized repeatedly. The revival of the use of the Hebrew language also demonstrates the theme of historical continuity and hope sustained over the centuries of hardship.

The narrative structure, using principal characters as vehicles to introduce and develop the historical background of the Jewish people in the lands of Europe and the Middle East, effectively keeps the plot alive and moving, though this method results in an excess of exposition and information. The themes of justice and injustice, cruelty and kindness, callousness and compassion, revenge and pardon, are all developed within the actions of the individual characters and as motifs inspiring the broader historical narrative.


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The themes of the novel are generally related to the background and circumstances of Israeli independence: Characters behave in the present according to their reactions to the past and their visions of the future. Alienation repeatedly appears: victims of the Nazis manifest levels of alienation ranging from silent agony to madness. Tolerance is another theme which receives extensive treatment. For individuals and communities, tolerance enables harmony and peace, while intolerance breeds division and violence. The subject of freedom is a central concern in Exodus; characters seek, with varying degrees of intensity, forms of liberation, and to some extent the novel links personal and political liberation. History itself becomes a theme of the work as Uris includes and provides a context for such events as the United Nations vote on whether or not to partition Palestine.

Exodus touches on the theme of the role of the artist. The novel refers to different writers' reactions toward prejudice. Exodus includes references to Shakespeare's Othello (c.1604), Zola's interest in the Dreyfus case, and Tolstoy's objection to anti-Jewish activity. In total, these references imply the historical and fitting concern of the artist with social issues.

The themes of Exodus culminate in the question that is the cri-de-coeur of the novel's protagonist, Ari Ben Canaan, who fights for Israeli independence: "God! God! Why don't they let us alone! Why don't they let us live!"

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