Themes and Meanings
Readers who mistake Stella’s narration for the novel’s authorial voice might think How Stella Got Her Groove Back is simply derivative of Harlequin romances, aiming to modify the romance formula to fit the fantasies of African American women in their thirties and forties. In fact, however, the novel employs the escapist boy-meets-girl romance formula only initially, ultimately working against and even mocking that formula. The romance novel cliché of an exotic Caribbean setting with stunning beaches, gorgeous sunsets, and handsome local males is offset by the grim reality of Jamaican life for the impoverished natives, the absence of common amenities anywhere except the resort areas, the heroine’s determination not to marry and definitely not to have more children, her need to fulfill existing familial and personal responsibilities, and the fact that Stella’s final career decision receives more time and space at the end of the novel than does her romantic decision. The contrast between the United States and Jamaica is one of conspicuous consumption versus simplicity and poverty, of overriding competition and drive versus a more balanced attitude toward life and relationships, and of choices based on conformity and fear versus choices based on the heart. The novel’s final argument is that satisfying work makes satisfying relationships possible.