Themes and Characters

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 829

Jeff Greene is the protagonist in A Solitary Blue; the reader sees everything that happens through his eyes. The novel begins when seven-year-old Jeff comes home from school and finds a note from his mother that says she has gone away and will not be coming back. In the letter she intimates that Jeff should try to do things for himself and not bother his father. This insures that Jeff will be afraid to grieve publicly and ask for help.

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Jeff is a frightened, sensitive, and insecure boy; he feels as if his father might leave at any moment if he becomes a hindrance. Later, as Jeff matures, he takes chances: he tells his mother he does not like her lying, and becomes more open with his father. His sensitivity will always leave him vulnerable to pain, but his love of nature and music will help him through such suffering. By the end of the book, his hard-won emotional maturity shows that he is a strong and brave young man willing to take the risk of loving and trusting again.

The Professor, Jeff's father, has been terribly hurt by his marriage to Melody; although he is extremely intelligent, he has a difficult time communicating with others. He is withdrawn and gives the appearance of not caring. Jeff bases his image of the Professor in part upon what Melody has told him and in part upon the Professor's own withdrawal from life. The Professor also grows as a person when he and Jeff are able to communicate with each other. Like Jeff, the Professor has been living behind a wall for protection.

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Melody, Jeff's mother, may be the most simple character in the book: she is a type, like Mrs. Jellaby in Charles Dickens's Bleak House. She is full of concern for strangers, but oddly indifferent to the suffering of her own husband and son. She has gone off to try to save the world. She gives the appearance of being a loving person; unlike the Professor she is very demonstrative. When Jeff goes to visit her, she hugs and kisses him frequently. Starved for affection, Jeff assumes this is love. Even though she lies and manipulates people, Melody is not all bad. She wants custody of Jeff only after she finds out that Gambo, her grandmother, has made him the heir of her will. But Melody does not want the money for herself; she wants to put it into her crusades. When Jeff gives Melody Gambo's diamond engagement ring, she plans to sell it so that she can go on a charitable mission to Colombia, South America. In her own way Melody tries to make the world a better place. But the trail of pain and shattered illusions she leaves behind in her personal life is an ironic contradiction of her good intentions.

Among the minor characters are Brother Thomas, Gambo, and Miss Opal. Brother Thomas is a friend of the Professor's who also teaches at the university. He acts as a bridge between the Professor and Jeff by forcing them to talk and interact with one another. Gambo is Melody's grandmother and Jeff's great-grandmother. She is wealthy and very pleased to meet Jeff because he is the last of the Boudrault family line of men. Gambo fills Jeff with the history of his family. Even though Gambo and Jeff are not very close, she makes him the heir of her estate, an act inspired by pride rather than love. Her cold character helps the reader to understand Melody's personality. Miss Opal, Gambo's maid, gives up her house and moves in to take care of Gambo when she has a stroke. Jeff is amazed to learn that she is older than Gambo. After Gambo's death, Jeff asks the lawyer to give the house to Miss Opal so that she will have a place to live for the rest of her life.

The Tillerman family in Crisfield helps Jeffheal his emotional wounds and start to trust people again. The family includes Gram, the eccentric old woman who has taken her four grandchildren in; Dicey, the bright, tough, honest oldest girl; James, the oldest boy, a mixture of intelligence and raw curiosity; Maybeth, who is fragile and warm; and Sammy, a born fighter. Although the Tillermans are present only in the last third of the book, they are deftly drawn, and their role is important. Jeff sees in them what a family can be: a collection of individuals bound together by a tough and honest love.

The search for true love and trust is the most memorable theme in A Solitary Blue. It is most clearly shown in Jeff's experiences and development. Twice betrayed by his mother, Jeff becomes obsessed with protecting his heart. His father's less demonstrative but more reliable love finally reassures him, and he becomes a caring young man who is at last secure. Jeff has come full circle because he has learned to love and trust himself.

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