Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Paule Marshall’s work centers on several major themes that recur throughout her novels. One of them is the search for identity, with which Marshall herself has struggled. It is a major theme of her 1959 novel Brown Girl, Brownstones, a story of a first-generation Caribbean American girl growing up in an African Caribbean community. The search for identity is also prominent in The Fisher King. Young Sonny tries to discover his identity in the context of a family he has never before met. Previously, Hattie was his only family; suddenly meeting his entire family leaves him confused, hesitant, and even fearful. By the end of the novel, however, Sonny is beginning to accept the odd configuration of characters to whom he is related.

The novel’s title is taken from an Arthurian legend concerning a wounded king imprisoned in his castle who waits for a knight to arrive to heal and protect him. Young Sonny is fascinated by castles and repeatedly draws them, in addition to drawing himself in knight’s armor complete with lance and halberd. He says that he is guarding his grandfather, who died in the Paris metro, but it is ironically young Sonny himself who is in need of healing and protection.