Themes

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 516

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...

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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 developed in the sequel, White Jenna (1989). Sister Light, Sister Dark establishes that not all men are like those bent upon destruction of the women's groups; women enjoy occasional dalliances with men outside the Hames. "We choose to use men but not to live with them." Jenna encounters a mild mannered boy who kindles her awakening womanhood and love.

The themes of self-definition, alienation, women's bonding and cultural life incorporate another theme commonly found in Yolen's fictional works. Yolen seeks to show the value to social stability of myth, folklore, and other products of the creative imagination — women's, in this case. The theme is stressed through Jenna's acquiescence in the poetry, balladry, and myth that surround her role. The thematic concept is also developed through inserted sections of fictitious scholarly discourse on the Garunian age. Typically the studies are stuffy and askew. Dialogue includes this subtle commentary, spoken in regard to the boy Carum: "They say he is a scholar and in danger, though what danger a scholar could possibly get into, only Alta knows."

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