(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The key themes of the novel concern history itself, as a determinant of human fate, and thus the larger issue of individual freedom to create oneself. The problematic curse on the Mills family is to a degree their own acceptance of its inevitability, or of history's power to repress and determine our lives. The current George Mills, although overtly less promising than his ancestors, has come to his own way of dealing with history, and progresses to a state Elkin describes at the end of the sermon George gives as the novel concludes as, "relieved of history as an amnesiac."

The novel further associates the escape from history's trap with grace and with denial of life-creating forces. In an elementary way, the current Mills escapes history's trap by refusing to pass on his flawed birthright. All his ancestors wanted sons and heirs, who would also be auditors for their stories. The current George has refused to propagate, and he insists in his sermon that the "line's played out" and thus the curse is no more. Elkin compounds this theme by associating the religious concept "grace" with the special immunity George feels when he contemplates his entrapment in and escape from history. Throughout the book George feels "lifted from life," "in a state of grace," immune. He believes he is safe, partly because he has accepted the family version of the curse, and partly because he will not pass the curse into the future. As Elkin told an interviewer, Mills's feeling...

(The entire section is 530 words.)