Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Although The Gay Place was promoted as a political novel, its actual dominant theme is a mainstay of the novel form, the inability to resolve feelings of love and lust with social circumstances, particularly marriage and the family. While the characters do their best to put on public faces that will please both the general society and their personal friends, inside they are torn with passion and doubt.

All the foreground characters contrast sharply with Fenstemaker, who has a clear idea of who he is and what needs to be done. He uses whatever means necessary to do what needs to be done, including some unseemly techniques, such as turning over the secrets of one of his friends, Neil Christiansen, to a political enemy in order to goad Christiansen into action. Several characters comment that they wish they had the governor’s drive and sense of purpose, and there is a link between the main characters and Fenstemaker in Country Pleasures when Jay McGown uses blackmail, which Fenstemaker would not have eschewed, to get the favorable divorce settlement he wants from his wife. McGown even uses the dead governor as part of his plan, a move that Fenstemaker would have applauded. The point of the novel is that shady means not only may but must be used if one’s cause is honorable.