The primary theme of Traylor’s novel is healing, whether the pain that needs remedy derives from physical or spiritual suffering. Mary’s family is torn apart by her mother’s death and her father’s alcoholism. Her innocence is shattered by her induction into prostitution at a young age and by the knowledge of her father’s complicity in her bondage. The pain inflicted on Mary’s body is rife, but her spiritual suffering is more poignant. The sanctified and comforting rituals of Jewish faith were replaced by vulgar and defiling acts of physical and mental abuse in the brothel, particularly her harrowing sexual initiation. When Jesus drives the demons from Mary’s mind and body, he heals both her flesh and her spirit. If Rahab is cast out of Mary’s body, so too is the old Mary. Mary is cleansed of her afflictions and receives both revived health and a new identity. She is introduced through Jesus’ teachings to a new kind of love, one that is the foundation of the Christian ethos: “Love one another as I have loved you.”
A second theme critical to the novel is forgiveness. When Jesus casts out Mary’s demons, he simultaneously forgives her sins. Mary, who has been more sinned against than sinning, must consider her own future course of action. Bitterness at the memory of what others have done to her is replaced by compassion for her former tormentors.
When a prostitute from the brothel visits Mary at Suzanna’s home, Mary greets her and treats her with respect. When Mary locates her outcast father, she remains with him even after he tells her his children are dead to him. Their reunion is based on her ability to forgive his past behaviors and to love him unconditionally, behaviors she has learned from Jesus.