Sent for You Yesterday Themes
by John Edgar Wideman

Start Your Free Trial

Download Sent for You Yesterday Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Sent for You Yesterday Themes

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Wideman's work is unique in its layering of themes, all connected yet echoing distinct aspects of human life. The central theme becomes that connection — the drawing together of disparate experiences in a shimmering kaleidoscope of emotion, history, meditation, and narrative. Making up the kaleidoscope are these themes: the fragility of ties, the construction of identity, the basis of heritage, and the nature of reality.

Fragile ties, to life and between people, are deftly rendered.Characters enter and then leave the world, their departures a commentary on the vulnerability of life. The death of Albert Wilkes, a blues pianist and cop killer, is implicit in his reappearance in Homewood. Junebug perishes in a fire on the Fourth of July. Brother is hit by a train, supposedly dead beforehand. The link to life is tentative in this novel, with characters wounded, crazy, and dead, veering off like tops.

Likewise, ties between people are shifting and unconstrained by traditional markers. For instance, Carl French, Brother Tate, and Lucy Tate are inextricably bound together, but they all drift in different directions and reunite sporadically. Albert Wilkes rejoins his white lover after seven years away, severing and then jauntily renewing his ties with her. Strong bonds exist, but they are unconventional, internal loyalties, marked by shifts and changes rather than continuity.

Continuity is found in the larger perspective of the novel, in the examination of heritage and its components of family, stories, and race. While individual family members may veer in radically different directions, the idea of family remains intact. Doot traces his family through their intertwining stories, and the family structure sustains the narrative.

Similarly, the act of storytelling continually informs the search for heritage. By recounting events from his family history, Doot envisions his heritage (simultaneously created and shared by the characters in the stories). This form of family storytelling is one of the binding elements of the novel.

The struggle to understand oneself is another constant of Sent For You Yesterday, and that search is aided by family and by story. The novel demonstrates how identity is formed and how it shifts over time, affected by...

(The entire section is 550 words.)