No Adam in Eden Themes
The theme of female emancipation is again of concern here but does not fare well. The only female who ends very happily is the one who completely submerges herself in motherhood and the dominance of her sexually powerful husband. It is the end rung on the ladder of descent for females begun in The Return to Peyton Place (1959). The few women who do achieve a measure of freedom do so at a great cost both to themselves and to their families, and they become unpleasant persons in the process. Clearly the way to happiness is subjugation.
The past takes on increasing importance since one's past, in this case an alien one, determines one's present. The grip of the past is an iron one, however, and the structure of the novel is dominated by the flashbacks, which reach ever farther into the past as if in search of causes for present maladies. The plot is of the thinnest sort; the story being carried forward primarily on the reminiscences of backward-looking characters. In no other Metalious novel is the past so important and so inexorable in its influence.
The theme of ethnicity is also explored here for the first time. Immigrants may share the American dream, but they rarely enjoy the fruits of it, as one generation may overcome poverty but will never rise much in the social scale. It is not a new theme but one which is rarely dealt with, at least in so negative a way, in popular fiction of this period, where the norm seems to be that hard work and honesty do pay off in the long run.
This is an extremely dark book. There is little happiness for anyone. It is a book of regrets, backward looking and negative. It is cynical and, until the end, lacking in hope.