The Truth about Lorin Jones Themes
by Alison Lurie

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Social Concerns / Themes

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Lurie uses the plot of The Truth about Lorin Jones to explore the implications of the feminist movement that began in the 1960s and to criticize women who use the movement to denigrate men. Polly Alter, the major protagonist, is one of these misguided women. She begins researching the life of the dead painter Lorin Jones in order to prove an anti-male thesis: the men in Lorin's life, from her half brother to her husband to her lover, prevented her from realizing her full potential as an artist. What Polly discovers from her research is that Lorin was responsible for her own failing as an artist. She used mind-altering drugs and took unnecessary risks that led to an early death. Polly's recognition of Lorin's own culpability leads her, by the end of the novel, to a pro-male thesis: the men in Lorin's life, rather than oppressing her, were themselves oppressed by the artist's selfishness.

By embracing a new view of Lorin's career, Polly also reassesses her own lifestyle, specifically her relationship with a separatist feminist, Jeanne. Jeanne distrusts all males, including Stevie, Polly's ingenuous teenaged son, and Mac, Lorin's former and Polly's current lover. Jeanne nearly convinces Polly of the inherent evil of males, but Polly's love for these two men and her new opinion of the men in Lorin's life lead her to reject Jeanne's viewpoint.

Thus, by the end of the novel, Polly has fully altered (a pun on her last name "Alter") her assessment of separatist feminism and has embraced a supposedly better understanding of Lorin Jones and her own desires. Unfortunately, the quality of this new understanding is suspect. Not only does the reader wonder if Polly is deluding herself about finding happiness with Mac in Florida, but the reader also suspects that Polly's new understanding of Lorin is faulty. At the end of the novel, Polly exonerates all the men in the artist's life, even Lorin's husband who clearly frustrated the artist's creative impulses when he tried to impose his own artistic theories on her work. A more convincing and accurate conclusion would be for Polly to believe that Lorin's failure as an artist is attributable to her own destructive lifestyle as well as interference from some men in her life.