Themes

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 204

Although capitalizing on four social concerns, Wallace pays most attention to the Sexual Revolution embodied in Sweden's liberal morality. The other Revolutions are handled perfunctorily. The social effects of the laureates' scientific discoveries are ignored. The East German agents threatening one scientist are stereotypical "heavies" and easily thwarted. The two laureates who are victims of the Holocaust have physical and psychological scars that readily earn the reader's sympathy, but neither has a story that offers new insights into the origin or consequences of this historical tragedy.

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The personal and social implications of the Sexual Revolution are thoroughly explored. The novel dramatizes the healthiness and healing power of sensuality. Open sexuality heals the emotional and mental wounds of various characters. Adultery restores elan to the dulled marriage of two French biologists; friendly fornication frees the American novelist from guilt and alcoholism; romantic wooing erases the scars of sexual abuse from the psyche of a concentration camp survivor.

The sexual theme predominates because Wallace pays more attention to the private lives than to the professional activities of his characters. He attends so much to their jealousies, lusts, anxieties, and fantasies that readers may wonder how such luminaries ever found time for scientific research or artistic creation.

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Characters