Themes and Meanings
Naylor’s novel examines the negative consequences of achieving the American Dream. The African Americans of Linden Hills attempt to realize this dream at the expense of their souls and their sense of history. The author presents a series of vignettes in the lives of middle-class African Americans who have sacrificed their sense of racial identity in order to achieve material and career success. The importance of Dante’s Inferno from La divina commedia (c. 1320; The Divine Comedy) as a source for the narrative structure of this novel is evident. The topography of Linden Hills resembles Dante’s hell, with the evil angel, Luther Nedeed, residing at the bottom, surrounded by a frozen lake. Naylor constructs the primary narrative line around Willie and Lester’s odyssey through the hills, juxtaposing their adventures with the story of Willa Nedeed. The names Willie and Willa are deliberately similar. Willie and Willa’s journeys through hell are set in different typefaces to highlight the parallel themes. As Willie passes through Linden Hills, he recognizes and analyzes the moral failures of the lost souls he meets. At the end of Willie and Lester’s journey, they have a spiritual awakening, realizing the significance of all they have seen and heard.
Willa also has a spiritual awakening, realized through her discovery of the tragic lives of the previous Nedeed wives. After producing a Nedeed heir, each became a nonentity...
(The entire section is 473 words.)