Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 310
The multiple meanings of Heller's tide reveal his thematic concerns. How good is Bruce Gold, the academician who holds contempt for his colleagues and students alike, the purveyor of catchy verbiage without any substance, the husband of the long-suffering Belle who has not one—but two mistresses, the Jew embarrassed by his family and willing to be "unnamed" to achieve power? In many respects the novel is like a morality play in which Washington's call to a possible cabinet position takes on overtones of a Satanic temptation for Gold to deny his ethnic and familial heritage. In fact, Heller has suggested such a connection in clarifying the moral themes of his third novel: "What is being ridiculed, deplored by me if not by my characters, is a moral corruption, a disavowal of responsibilities, a substitution of vanity, folly where other people's lives are concerned."
The title also relates to the dependence of Washington politics upon wordsmiths, crafters of catchy phrases to manipulate the electorate and obscure ugly realities. Exactly how good is Gold in producing a currency of slogans? Disillusioned with governmental rhetoric, Heller once complained, ". . . now there's too much distance between the citizen-voter and his elected representative . . . the Presidency has become a kind of public-relations enterprise for the party in power."
In addition, the title raises a question Bruce Gold must ask himself: Will a position in Washington bring a power and status that is as valuable as gold? Or, as Heller phrases the question, "How much lower would he have to crawl to rise to the top?" Gold is clearly in danger of seeing himself as a commodity, a danger Heller makes explicit in Gold's dream that he has been transformed into a glistening Van Cleef and Arpels jewelry store where the wealthiest people in the nation shop. Ultimately, Bruce Gold must decide what values he considers golden.