Social Concerns / Themes

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Two social concerns predominate in God Knows, both of which Joseph Heller has addressed in earlier novels. One is the breakdown of the family, which Heller first fully treated in Something Happened (1974; see separate entry). In God Knows we witness incredible violence, antipathy, and back stabbing within the family unit, made all the more complicated by the fact that David's offspring are from different wives. The other concern is the human fixation upon gaining and maintaining power, which Heller exposed in Good as Gold (1979; see separate entry).

In God Knows, politics intrudes in the relationships between Saul and David and between David and his sons over succession to the kingship, and even in David's relationship with Bathsheba as she withholds sex to manipulate him to follow her will in choosing a successor.

God Knows focuses most intently upon the father/son relationship, particularly David's relationship with two embodiments of patriarchal authority, Saul and God. Indeed, David's monologue is a self-justifying attempt to come to terms with his rejections by these paternal figures. As Heller's title indicates, God knows the reasons David has been denied fatherly love; however, David is unable to comprehend why Saul at one moment tenderly addresses him as "son" and the next sends a javelin whizzing by his ear or why God would murder his beloved baby, the offspring of his adulterous affair with Bathsheba. Thus David attributes the unhappiness in his life to them: "Had Saul been just a bit more fatherly to me, I would have worshipped him as a god. Had God ever been the least bit paternal, I might have loved him like a father." Summing up his dilemma, he reveals, "I can't bear feeling alone."

Ineffectually, David attempts to substitute self-aggrandizement for fatherly love. Blind to the fact that he has indirectly caused Saul's melancholia and has provoked God's anger by sleeping with Bathsheba and arranging for her husband Uriah's death, David assumes a whimpering, "poor me" attitude:

. . . I've got this ongoing, open-ended Mexican stand-off with God, even though He might now be dead. Whether God is dead or not hardly matters, for we would use Him no differently anyway. He owes me an...

(The entire section is 938 words.)