Themes

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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 409

The corrupt actions of modern business, as represented by Bogan Murdock, and the resultant tragedy, is one important theme. Warren primarily shows the seductive and evil impact of Murdock's power in his influence on the trusting Jerry Calhoun. However, Murdock's inadequacy as a father figure to Sue also is an important theme. As both a dominating and a remote figure, Murdock has gained Sue's admiration, despite her youthful revolt against him. Yet there is no indication that Murdock would be able to share Sue's feelings or express forgiveness to her for her actions. Nevertheless, in her rebellion, Sue tends to measure her lovers against the image of her father. A related theme is Jerry Calhoun's betrayal of the best influences of his past in his choice of Bogan Murdock as a role model. His betrayal is underscored by Sarrett's deception of nearly everyone.

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The tragic nature of Sue Murdock's rebellion and quest for fulfillment is another of the central themes of the novel. However, this theme is balanced by a concern with moral redemption in the latter stages of the book; it is developed by Windham's statement, by Jerry Calhoun's repentance, and by Private Porsum's sense of remorse over the scandals created by Murdock's company.

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Another theme that permeates Warren's early fiction is the contrast between the idealist or the "man of idea" as Warren called him, and the pragmatist. This conflict is given a central position in All the King's Men (1946; see separate entry), in the conflict between Adam Stanton and Willie Stark. But the same conflict between differing types is adumbrated in At Heaven's Gate in the clash between Windham, the born-again Christian, and the ruthless pragmatist, Bogan Murdock.

In some respects the novel affirms classic agrarian themes. Jerry Calhoun encounters disappointment and disgrace through abandoning the principles of his father, a farmer of great integrity, and by losing contact with the land where he grew up. Similarly, Private Porsum has been seduced by the temptation of wealth and a life of ease; but he recovers his sense of integrity when he acknowledges Windham as his cousin and decides to return to the values of his Tennessee mountain youth by denouncing Murdock and publicly acknowledging that Murdock has misused the funds in the bank nominally under Porsum's direction. Thus integrity is associated with a return to one's roots in the Southern land, and with acknowledging the ties of kinship and family, values strongly asserted by the Agrarians.

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Characters