Themes and Meanings
Several variations of a single theme dominate throughout: illusion versus reality, the dogma that life is a dream and death is another dream, good versus evil. Vera’s world is enveloped in delusive images. Searching for her drowned reality, she cries out, “What shall we do when, fleeing from illusion, we are confronted by illusion? When falling from illusion, we fall into illusion?” Whatever heights of fantasy the novel achieves, it remains rooted in the basic American literary themes of childhood memories and nostalgia for the past. Small-town life, another popular literary theme, surfaces in What Cheer, Iowa—a place where “all the young people had fled from, and the old were half in their graves . . . and nobody could hear a word that was said.” Reaching into the depths of human psychology, Young touches on many aspects of life—gambling, suicide, perfectionism, schizophrenia, drug addiction, real and imagined pregnancies, and murder—all of which pose the ultimate question of the novel—what is reality and what are dreams?