Themes

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 424

The character Jenna is engaged in a quest for self, a central theme which works on various levels. Jenna's identity relates to questions of life's dualities, women's independence, gender relations and social duty. Throughout the novel, Jenna leads the dual life of private person and folk heroine. She is regarded...

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The character Jenna is engaged in a quest for self, a central theme which works on various levels. Jenna's identity relates to questions of life's dualities, women's independence, gender relations and social duty. Throughout the novel, Jenna leads the dual life of private person and folk heroine. She is regarded in spite of herself as a prophesied savior, a "holiest of sisters," because of her white hair, dark eyes, and unusual three-times-orphaned status. Jenna is also strong and exceptionally gifted in all things. "Your coming is the beginning and it is the end," she is told.

The theme of social responsibility is developed through Jenna's acquiescence in necessity. Jenna sets aside the alienation she feels from prophecy to play the part of the White Goddess or Anna, savior, because she is convinced that a strong leader must take control. Initially at stake is the survival of the independent sisterhoods, the Hames. The situation soon alters to involve help for the forces of the legitimate king against evil usurpers, the men who have also begun attacks on the Hames. The theme of bonding among women merges with themes of balance in gender relations and political empowerment for women. The Gender Wars evolve into a war for succession, and social restructuring for the common good.

Jenna's quest for self is inextricably linked to her impact upon society as a whole, thus illustrating the theme, too, of value in women's cultural life. Jenna is the product of women's exclusive nurturing. This teaching is precisely what prepares her to join with the true king's men and defeat the forces of evil. Her process of self-discovery through leadership introduces a provocative exploration of the themes of ideal social structure, equality and the nature of time. She encounters elves called Grenna, who take her to an alternate world and teach that the perfect model is the circle. "No one is higher. No one is lower. No one is first. No one is last." Fourteen-year-old Jenna emerges from her encounter five years older.

Jenna's encounter with the Grenna, and her impact on society as the Anna, incorporate a theme commonly found in Yolen's fiction, that myth, legend, folklore and imaginative creations are vital to social order. The theme is reinforced by Jenna's acquiescence in the use of balladry, song, and poetry to win forces to her side. Imaginative creations contain truths that rational methods cannot find, a point made by the fictitious, future scholarly studies inspired by Jenna's life and presented in the novel. The scholarly conclusions are often humorously askew.

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