Lie Down in Darkness

by William Styron

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Social Concerns / Themes

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Unlike The Confessions of Nat Turner (1967) and Sophie's Choice (1979), in which the characters are victims of the dehumanizing systems (slavery, Nazism) they tried to fight (Nat Turner) or cheat (Sophie), Styron's first novel deals with the self- induced, hopeless suffering of one upper-middle-class Virginia family. Yet Lie Down in Darkness, despite its exclusive focus on one family's spiritual and moral disintegration, is Styron's most pessimistic and depressing novel. It offers no hope, no redemption reinforcing the novel's theme: the family's inability to love, to overcome their selfishness, to see beyond their petty but deeply rooted misunderstandings. In a way, the Loftises' emotional immaturity, their crippled lives, illustrate the sources of the larger problems afflicting Milton and Helen's prewar generation — lack of ideals, isolation, moral stagnation, intolerance, and indifference. Their meaningless social rituals awkwardly cover up their failure to communicate with one another and the outside world. Emotionally infantile, they escape into alcohol, promiscuity, cold self-righteousness, insanity, and suicide, unable to simply reach out for each other. Peyton's suicide gives the novel its tragic dimension, introducing the theme of guilt and parental responsibility.

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