Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The most important theme of the book is fathers and sons. Moses Berger has a strong conflict with his father, L. B. Berger. First, there is the betrayal of the socialist cause for the comforts that Bernard Gursky and his wealth can provide. Moses is embarrassed to have to go to the Gursky mansion and see his father debase himself; in addition, both Moses and his father are treated as second-class citizens in the Gurky mansion. Moses is ashamed to discover that L. B. cannot use the Gursky toilet.

There is also a creative conflict between Moses and L. B. Berger. L. B. has never been able to get a poem accepted by The New Yorker; when Moses manages to have a short story accepted by that prestigious magazine, L. B. intercepts the notice from The New Yorker and replies in Moses’s name that he refuses to be published in such a magazine. When Moses discovers this later, he is an alcoholic and even more deeply estranged from his devious father. In Solomon Gursky, he is clearly looking for a surrogate father who can free him from alcoholism and unlock his creative abilities.

There is also a father-son conflict between Henry Gursky, the son of Solomon, and his son, Isaac. Henry lives in the far north with the Eskimos, as far removed from the Gursky empire and its conflicts as he can get, while Isaac wants to be in the big city and live like the rich Gurskys. When he accompanies his father on a trip to the north, the plane crashes;...

(The entire section is 511 words.)