The River King Themes
by Alice Hoffman

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The River King Themes

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

In Hoffman's fictional universe, nature reflects human passions and sorrows. Thwarted desire is echoed in spectacular thunderstorms; grief makes flowers change color; animals are drawn to lonely people; and rivers reveal their secrets.

At the beginning of each chapter, Hoffman describes a sweeping physical change in the weather and the landscape; this natural occurrence directly influences the moods and stratagems of the characters in the story. The cool winds and freshness of October make the Haddan girls swoon with love. The storm that ravages the newly built Haddan School dooms the school to a fate of tragedy and mishap. The black rain forebodes a black mood amongst the Haddan folk, foreshadowing the events to come.

n her recurring themes of love, marriage, family, and friendship, she infuses wonder in the everyday, subtly shifting from natural events to those of the supernatural. Although Hoffman's characters cope with illness, suicide, physical and mental abuse, broken hearts, and shattered dreams, there is a soothing element, a presence of higher spirits and the wonder of nature, while superstition and miracles add a dimension of whimsy and hope.

The animal and plant imagery in the story reflects the characters and plot, as well. The roses, especially, express the sorrow of Anne Howe, the wife of the former headmaster of the school, who years earlier committed suicide in the rafters of one of the dormitories at Haddan. As Helen Davis, a teach who had had an affair with Anne's husband, is dying, she reaches some kind of peace about the mistakes in her life, and for the first time since Anne's death, she smells the roses that are in almost constant bloom on the walls of the house where she lives. After she dies, the smell of roses overtakes her rooms, as though the forgiveness was overflowing and carrying Helen to a place of peace in the afterlife. The swans attach themselves to certain characters, and attack others, as...

(The entire section is 507 words.)