Themes

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 412

The primary theme of Alan Hollinghurst’s novel is the centrality of gay experience. Set in the turbulent 1980s in Thatcherite England, The Line of Beauty presents the theme of disease both in regard to the AIDS crisis and the political corruption that was contaminating society. Another, closely related theme is masks and disguise as people deliberately misrepresent their own identities and try to cover up inconvenient truths.

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In three parts spaced several years apart, Hollinghurst focuses on the experiences of one gay man, Nick Guest. Nick, who is white, and his friends and lovers, represent gay experience as central, not peripheral, in society. Hollinghurst has written about his commitment to re-shaping ideas about narrative so that heterosexuality will no longer be assumed to be the norm. During these key phases in his life, Nick is involved in romantic and sexual relationships with several men, along with living as part of a community in which some people are out and others remain closeted. The characters of Leo and Wani show gay men of different races and ethnicities as experiencing and expressing their identities in relation to their families and cultures.

As time progresses, Nick becomes increasingly affected by the threat of AIDS as these friends and lovers fall ill. Disease is not only a reality that intrudes into all the characters’ lives but also serves as a metaphor for social malaise. Despite their knowledge of the ravages of HIV-related conditions, denial is equally prevalent. Discrimination against gay people in English society goes hand in hand with general unwillingness to admit that the disease affects everyone. Beyond any...

(The entire section contains 412 words.)

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