Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Through the structure of her novel, Grau places emphasis on birthing and dying, on seasonal changes, on cyclic expansions and contractions as they occur through successive generations. In this emphasis, the novel echoes Ecclesiastes 1:4, “One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth forever.” “They come in their season,” William says of two spiders who return to the same bush year after year. “Our children grow old and elbow us into the grave,” William thinks before he meets Margaret to begin life anew.

Clearly Abigail gets no real satisfaction from her attempts to destroy her neighbors in order to avenge their attacks on her. At the end of the novel, she describes her own “sob-wracked echoing world” into which she feels locked, and, crying, she slips off her chair and huddles “fetus-like against the cold unyielding boards.” The reader may recall Ecclesiastes 1:14, “I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.” It remains to be seen, for Grau’s chronicle cannot say, whether Abigail has learned from her experience what Ecclesiastes proclaims in 1:18, “For in much wisdom is much grief; and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.”