Themes and Meanings
One major theme of the novel is that disguises and masks may facilitate truth and healing. Another is that growing up is difficult, especially for an African American girl born in the 1950’s, particularly if she wishes to be an artist.
The title of this novel comes from Homer’s Odyssey (c. 800 b.c.). Homer’s epic contains a passage that describes two gates from which dreams issue, the gate of horn and the gate of ivory. Those dreams that come through the gate of ivory are deceptive, but those that issue from the gate of horn are truthful. It is Virginia’s job to distinguish truth from falsehood in understanding her family’s past. On the other hand, she is also a puppeteer, a dealer in illusion, but this kind of illusion is a healing fiction that helps those who become involved in it to learn to accept themselves and others. Memories as well as dreams are deceptive in this narrative, which interweaves imagination and reality, illusion and truth, to create a fable of healing through art.
The puppets themselves are a strong presence in the story. Through their apparent artificiality and their pose as amusement, they allow their creators to speak otherwise hidden truths. Virginia speaks through Gina, and the children speak through the characters they have created. Through these masks, they arrive at genuine communication. Masks, puppets, acting, and other ways in which meaning is communicated...
(The entire section is 472 words.)