The Golden Age

by Gore Vidal

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Themes

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Ghosts are mentioned on numerous occasions and are used for one particular metaphor in the novel. The difference between the self that is out for the public to see and the self that is real and working behind the curtain is a major theme that runs throughout the book. Caroline is a former movie actress who views her life in Hollywood and the films she created as a past life, and the images up on the screen as a ghost of her real self. Her public persona had another name, Emma Traxler, and existed at a different time. This other persona still haunts her from time to time, especially when she returns to Los Angeles, and also when she interacts with her former lover and film production company partner, Timothy X. Farrell. Timothy makes documentaries, and it is partially through his eyes that we see that the public selves are carefully staged, even in documentaries. A similar ghostly analogy can be used within the context of the politicians and their public selves. The Roosevelt that the public sees is different from that which exists behind the doors of the Oval Office. This is partially represented by his insistence that he stand when making his speeches, despite his difficulty to do so. What the politicians say is not what they do, and getting reelected is their primary focus. The reader is brought into the private world of Washington, and Vidal reveals the real selves of his characters as a way to dispel the ghosts of the popular myths that surround these people and this time period.

The Golden Age also explores the constraints and the freedom of women of this time period. Caroline and Peter work as our eyes within the political system, and we can see the options that are open to each of them and the way in which they get their information. Caroline is seen to be a source of information because of her relationship with Harry Hopkins. She is constantly being asked why she did not marry Hopkins, for it would seem that the marriage would be convenient for him, and perhaps useful to her. Her refusal to marry anyone, except for convenience when she becomes pregnant with Emma (and not to Emma's real father), seems to be an anomaly within this circle.

Since the opportunities afforded to women at this time were limited, it is interesting to note how those who do have some ambition negotiate the male-dominated territory. Many of the women in the novel are caricatures; they are flighty women who mistake servants' names and seem to be completely disinterested, or flighty women who talk to animals, or oversexed hostesses with ambitions in journalism. Caroline is able to exert some influence because of her connections to the White House and because of her former status as owner and publisher of the Tribune. Although the paper is now owned and operated by her half-brother, she is still able to step back into the role, as long as she does not interfere with his own position at the helm. She seems to be one of the characters most able to exert some influence within her circle. Part of the reason for this ability is her prudence, and her guiding principle of reason and perspective. Another positive example is Eleanor Roosevelt, who negotiates the territory with quite a bit of aplomb. She too has her enemies, just as her husband does, but she is a woman to be reckoned with. The relationship between FDR and his wife is fleshed out in Vidal's novel far beyond the history...

(This entire section contains 729 words.)

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books; both FDR and Eleanor have their "companions" and they work together and apart throughout Roosevelt's reign. Their relationship seems to be one of equals, which speaks well for Eleanor and her supporters. Other women, such as Diana Day, daughter of a senator and object of Peter's lust, work through their marriages and their influence on the men around them to make their mark on society. Diana's honest outlook on life and politics acts in her service in the world of male power brokers. But her role is limited, like many of the female characters in this novel. When Eleanor mentions that she is "just an old politician of the wrong sex or the right sex but born at the wrong time" the boundaries to her freedom become clear.

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