Sister Light, Sister Dark Themes
by Jane Yolen

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Sister Light, Sister Dark Themes

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

As Jenna's life is followed from babyhood to teens, the theme of alienation and quest for identity functions on several levels. Jenna is troubled by her foster mothers' beliefs that events surrounding her birth and life identify her as the prophesied savior during the Garunian Gender Wars. The novel begins with prophecy. A virgin will give birth to a "white babe" with black eyes. Homage will be paid to her by ox, hound, bear, and cat. "Holy, holy, holiest of sisters," all will say; "who is both black and white, both dark and light, your coming is the beginning and it is the end." Three times will her mother die.

Jenna's situation explores questions about the making of myths, legends, heroes/heroines. Jenna has white hair and dark eyes. She had a mother who died at her birth, a midwife-mother figure killed while trying to find her another home, and a foster mother murdered while taking her from her Hame. Eventually Jenna defeats men named for beasts — the Hound, the Bull or Ox — thus unwittingly encouraging the Gender Wars, men's attacks on the Hames. The theme of Jenna's quest for self-identity, which often takes the form of challenge to her society's values, eventually meshes with that of social duty. Jenna seeks self through her impact upon social good.

Altite women see this good as the preservation of their autonomous communities. Through the story of Jenna's coming-of-age, Yolen explores the theme of bonding among women through a self-contained society of diverse personalities. Each Hame is managed by a priestess, a Mother Alta. Rituals are observed, tasks doled out. Games for the young develop strategy, skill, self-sufficiency in demonstration of the theme of value in socialization and education, including self-defensive techniques, for girls. The thematic conception of independence, assertiveness, and competence in women is markedly apparent in this fantasy, as it is in many of Yolen's fantasies for children or adults.

Although the novel's center is the women's culture, Sister Light, Sister Dark points toward social redemption attainable through balanced gender relationships, a theme...

(The entire section is 516 words.)