Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The theme of deception is central to the novel’s meaning. With their lies and subterfuges, the characters weave hopelessly tangled webs and often snare themselves. Cristalena deceives her parents about her clothes, boyfriends, and parties. To sustain the deception, she must expend vast amounts of energy and creativity, even enlisting the aid of her cousin and aunt, who provide alibis and a refuge for the “little child of Christ.” Fearful of losing Cristalena, Miguel lies about his profession, telling her that he works for a lumber company. He goes to great lengths to conceal the truth about himself; in the end, he almost loses Cristalena because of his deceit. By pretending to be estranged from Spider, Firebug deceives Miguel, but only for a short while. Eventually, Miguel figures out the truth on his own.

Deception is Spider’s modus operandi. He lures children into his operation by promising them exaggerated wealth and power. He lies repeatedly to Miguel, first about the car tires, then about the beating. When he is caught in his lie, he reacts with insouciance and moves on to another deception, supremely confident in his abilities as a machinator. He summons Miguel for a meeting and has his thugs shower the bar with bullets. The betrayal, once realized, prompts Miguel to cooperate with Sanchez, and the cost to Spider’s organization is potentially great, because Miguel can provide damaging and detailed information about the drug kingpin’s...

(The entire section is 530 words.)