Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon is a story about finding a place to belong. All three of the protagonists are, like the dog who later joins them, strays. Junie Moon’s parents, anxious for an opportunity to be rid of an unmarriageable daughter, abandon her when she is assaulted. Arthur, also deserted by his parents, has grown up in a state mental institution. Warren, though loved and cared for by Guiles and by his grandmother, has never even seen his mother or his father. The house under the banyan tree is the first real home any of them has ever known, and their often antagonistic behavior toward one another can be seen as an attempt to establish the sort of family relationship that has been denied them in the past. Since no one cares about them, they decide to care about one another. In this novel, “home” and “family” are created, not inherited, and even secondary characters such as Minnie and Mario illustrate the advantages of chosen kin over blood kin.

Though it is primarily concerned with personal relationships, this is also a novel with social vision. Junie Moon, Arthur, and Warren are “freaks,” unwanted and misunderstood by the world of the healthy and the complacently “normal.” A well-meaning shop clerk is so horrified by Junie Moon’s face that he sells her a red wagon at a ridiculous discount; even the tolerant Mario denies Arthur a job because of one of Sidney Wyner’s lies; the rich and eccentric Gregory victimizes Warren, treating him as a sadomasochistic plaything. The normal characters in this novel reveal dark and sinister undersides, while the freaks—though far from being the sentimentalized martyrs that a less talented writer might have made them—display depths of intellect and feeling such as Sidney Wyner and Miss Oxford have never known.

Junie Moon, Warren, and Arthur insist on their right to exist outside the hospital. In that they overcome enormous difficulties in reaching their goal, they are heroes. Their wit, their vanity, and their very real need for one another make them above all else human beings—human beings whose handicaps are only a bit more apparent than those of other people.