Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

It is inevitable that the major theme of the novel is seen as an intense attempt on the part of the wife of one of America’s most famous novelists to reorder and shape her own destiny by writing about her attempt to do so. The novel was written during the early stages of a series of mental breakdowns that became the pattern in the remaining years of Zelda’s life. It was written also during the time that her husband was working on his own novel, Tender Is the Night, in which the two leading roles of Alabama and David Knight are depicted (from a masculine point of view) in the characters of Nicole and Dick Diver.

Although traditional prerogatives of a male society had been broken down by some gains in women’s rights during the early years of the twentieth century, it remained for those freedoms to become a reality for most women. Zelda wrote magazine articles on the subject during the 1920’s and attempted to achieve that reality for herself. For ten years or so, between her marriage and her schizophrenic attacks, she worked toward this goal, ironically realizing it eventually, not in her ballet dancing, but in the same artistic medium as that of her husband: writing a novel that, although not the aesthetic equal of her husband’s work, is an important book in its own right. From the vantage point of more than fifty years after the novel’s publication, the novel thus has for its major theme the identity crisis of a woman for whom the...

(The entire section is 435 words.)