Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

There are many themes explored in the novel, most connected by biblical and religious references. Johnson’s main point, around which all of Leonard’s actions and discoveries evolve, is to question the purpose of life. For Leonard, the quest for personal redemption brings him to Provincetown and dictates much of what he does in the book. He cannot die until he has justified his life, found some meaning in his actions, and redeemed himself in the eyes of God. As a Catholic whose faith has failed him, however, he is searching for absolutes in a world, Provincetown, where everything is inverted. Men might be men, or they might be women dressed as men; the woman he falls in love with is a lesbian; Ray Sands, a former policeman and keeper of justice, is the head of a paramilitary organization and has three false passports in his desk; even the priest from whom Leonard seeks absolution is gay.

From Leonard’s point of view, the town is both absurd and corrupt. Simple, mundane elements are magnified; he looks for significance where there is none, searching for meaning in external events that mirror his inner confusion. One of Leonard’s first actions on arriving in Provincetown is to go to Mass and seek absolution, but he finds himself unable to make a “committed” confession. He falls instantly in love with Leanna, whom he meets at church. She is “strictly P-town,” yet Leonard pursues her. Perhaps he can redeem her, sexually, and in so doing redeem...

(The entire section is 588 words.)