Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Victor Henry frequently expresses the central theme of the novel; he talks of how the war has “scattered” the family, perhaps beyond any hope of full regrouping, and describes the main characters themselves as “tumbleweeds” blown about by the growing “winds of war.” As various events move the characters around the globe, there is a tone reminiscent of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s line comparing the soul of man to the water, and the destiny of man to the wind. None of the main characters has the political power or personal strength to resist the push of historical events; only Hitler and Roosevelt seem to be the “world historical” figures of German philosophy who can shape events rather than be controlled by them.

The focus of the novel on Germany raises the problem of anti-Semitism. This issue receives extra attention because of the role of Aaron Jastrow, Natalie’s famous uncle, who has written a book entitled A Jew’s Jesus. Several confrontations between American officials and the Nazis show that the United States officially deplored anti-Semitism, even in the face of diplomacy, threats, and bribes. On the other hand, the social conventions are less enlightened, though gradually the Henry family accepts Natalie, and Victor writes Roosevelt a memo deploring the wholesale slaughter of Russian Jews by Nazis. A cab driver expresses an all-too-popular sentiment when he vows that Roosevelt will not sacrifice American lives “to...

(The entire section is 499 words.)