Social Concerns / Themes

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Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 407

The individual's place in the framework of the larger world and the attendant difficulty of growing up amid complexity and confusion in both family and society are at the heart of Crowley's Little, Big. The novel, a family history spanning five generations, traces the lives and struggles of the descendants...

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The individual's place in the framework of the larger world and the attendant difficulty of growing up amid complexity and confusion in both family and society are at the heart of Crowley's Little, Big. The novel, a family history spanning five generations, traces the lives and struggles of the descendants of John Drinkwater and Violet Bramble and the parts family members play in a complex century long Tale which involves both the Drinkwaters and the fairy world. The novel's title suggests both of the author's themes. Little, Big describes the relationship between small individual lives and the complicated structure of the large world, the Tale made up of many millions of lives. It describes the process of growth, not just in size, but in maturity as well, the often painful movement from innocence to experience.

Crowley presents these themes through a remarkably complex plot that involves generations of Drinkwaters, their friends, and neighbors. It is the Drinkwater family that holds a special relationship with the fairy world, an illusive other-world that intersects the human one in and about the curiously designed Drinkwater house at Edgewood. Most of the Drinkwaters know they have been chosen to play a part in the slowly unfolding fairy Tale, yet each character is unaware of the significance of his or her life in the larger scheme of the Tale. Crowley moves back and forth through the generations of Drinkwaters, tracing their individual growth as well as their difficulty in understanding their role in the fairy Tale. These two major themes are linked to two lesser themes, politics and memory. Crowley ties the political theme to a war between the fairy and human worlds, explaining the decay in the political order as an assault by the fairy world on their enemies. As part of their war plan, the fairies call Frederick Barbarossa, the Holy Roman Emperor, back to life and enlist his aid in the destabilization of the social order. Taking the name Russell Eigenblick, Barbarossa presides over the economic ruin of the United States and in the process reawakens his desire for power. The other theme involves the classical art of memory that was used to assist orators in ordering and memorizing material for later recall before the invention of the printing press. Crowley asserts that these memories, once stored through this art, take on their own life, resulting in altogether new insights and combinations. For Crowley, memories are alive and changing.

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