Last Updated September 5, 2023.
Themes in A Tale of Love and Darkness include personal identity, hopelessness, and the isolation of art.
Oz feels torn between different aspects of his family, community, and self. For example, he's only taught a limited number of languages because his parents want to keep him safe from the dangerous influences of outside ideas and events. As he grows up, he's unable to identify with the community he lives in. He wants something more grounded. His own fractured identity and developing sense of self is mirrored by the wars in and around Israel as the two groups of people living there fight for what they believe are their rights to it.
Hopelessness is embodied in the suicide of Oz's mother, Fania. She spends her entire life trying to cope with the events of her past, anti-semitism, and her removal from her home to a community where she was not fluent in the language of Hebrew. Oz senses the hopelessness in her, saying that he had a "responsibility to guard and protect her from some shadow whose existence I could only guess at." She eventually overdoses on pills, killing herself. After she dies, his father doesn't speak of her again.
The Isolation of Art
For Oz, art itself is an isolating thing. His father is able to be outside of political concerns because of his focus on literature and scholarship; it puts him a world away from the concerns that Oz's mother faced and talks to her son about. He's capable of removing himself from these concerns. In some ways, art seems to insulate people from the real world rather than informing them about it as it should. Oz doesn't show art as having to create isolation or a buffer from the real world. His mother, after all, was the one who taught him about turmoil. But his father read 16 languages compared to his mother's 8, and this may be a sign that the more art he was capable of taking in, the less connected he was to the world. Using art as a refuge and a buffer is a choice he made, however, rather than an inevitability.