The basic theme in The Suicide’s Wife is that of death and rebirth. As a result of Wayne’s death, Ann is reborn. Birth is always a painful process, and for Ann, the process is excruciating.
Surrounded by tragic events, both personally and nationally, Ann is forced to acknowledge her own feelings of loss and need. No longer having a husband to hide behind, Ann must at last find out who she is and where she belongs. Thrust into the world anew, she has two choices: accept the identity inflicted on her by other people or discover her own identity and everyone else be damned.
Ann consciously chooses to control her own destiny. She begins by rejecting the negative self-image which she has built over the years—that of a fat, dumpy woman whose only purpose in life is to serve others. Although feelings of helplessness overwhelm her at times, she continues to move forward, one small step at a time. She not only must overcome her own personal demons, but she also must do it in the South, in 1968—a time when women without men were creatures to be pitied and avoided.
Madden creates a situation that proves his thesis: Even during times of chaos and tragedy, personal growth is not only possible but also absolutely necessary for survival. The human spirit is indomitable and can be broken only when the desire to live diminishes.
From the war in Vietnam to the political and racial wars in the United States to the personal tragedies that befall all human beings, death and destruction hung like a cloud over everyone’s head in 1968. Madden brilliantly weaves historical and local events into Ann’s personal life. As she becomes increasingly aware of the political climate, Ann breaks out of her self-indulgent shell and starts identifying with and joining the real world. In one critical scene, Ann actually leaves her children sleeping in their beds and joins a student demonstration down the street.