Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The central myth underlying the novel is that of Homer’s Odyssey, mediated to some degree by James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) and Robert Graves’s The Greek Myths (1955). Because the work posits itself as a figural theory of mythical transmutation, however, the basic story of a son’s journey in search of his father is at times hard to recognize. Neither chronological order nor narrative development nor systematic spatial displacement—staples of travels recounted—inhabits the narrative. Instead of sallying in search of his progenitor, Guillermo stays at home (one of the novel’s “holy places”) and tries to find—when he is not trying to avoid finding—himself. Rather than a progression leading to a triumphant reunion and epiphany, the conclusion to his stationary meanderings embodies entropic madness or suicide. The novel thus emerges as a grave intertext, a generic parody of the weightiest sort.

Although the work is decidedly tragic in modality, Holy Place’s major symbols resist any single privileged interpretation, signaling instead a broad repertory of diverse and sometimes self-contradictory meanings. Claudia, for example, is a highly complex concatenation of paradigms, both modern and ancient, Western and indigenous (Meso-American). Fundamentally cast as The Woman, she plays all the archetypal roles given the female through history. She is mother, virgin, prostitute, sorceress; she is the earth, the...

(The entire section is 491 words.)