The novel is set mostly in the fictional town of Grace, Arizona, although some scenes take place in the Santa Rosalia Pueblo, also fictional, in New Mexico. Codi’s first sight of Grace on her return gives a good picture of its almost idyllic beauty: The view from here was orchards: pecan, plum, apple. . . . The trees filled the whole valley floor to the sides of the canyon. Confetti-colored houses perched on the slopes at its edges with their backs to the canyon wall.
An abundance of wild peacocks strut around the orchards, and the whole town exists under a “shamelessly unpolluted sky.” The only flaw in the landscape is a man-made one, the old copper mine: “On the cliff overlooking the valley, the smelter’s one brick smokestack pointed obscenely to heaven.”
Economically, Grace survives by means of its orchards and the railroad, which provides employment for the town’s men. Culturally, it is a mixture of Anglo (white) and Mexican American, with a Native American presence there as well. The Baptist Grocery in Grace’s small commercial district is an indication of the former Anglo influence, but the predominant flavor of the Grace to which Codi returns is Hispanic. Spanish is still spoken a lot in people’s homes, most of the citizens have Hispanic names, Mexican folk and religious customs such as the Day of the Dead (the Mexican equivalent of All Soul’s Day) are celebrated, and the close family structures are matriarchal rather than patriarchal.
Like Grace, the Santa Rosalia Pueblo, where Loyd takes Codi at Christmas, is notable for its natural beauty and also for its antiquity and the sense of the sacred it transmits. This is how Codi describes Spider Rock, for example: The canyon walls rose straight up on either side of us, ranging from sunset orange to deep rust, mottled with purple. The sandstone had been carved by ice ages and polished by desert eons of sandpaper winds. The place did not so much inspire religion as it seemed to be religion itself.
As they travel further in the canyon, Codi observes that ancient pictures have been carved in the rock, of antelopes, snakes and ducks, and some human figures as well. This human adornment of nature is in marked contrast to the human intervention that has altered the landscape of Grace, producing ugly, polluting mines.
B Structure and Point of View
The novel is divided into 28 chapters, most of which are narrated in the first person, by Codi. Each of Codi’s chapters is prefaced by her full name, Cosima. The other chapters are told from Doc Homer’s point of view, by a third person narrator who has insight into Doc Homer’s mind but no one else’s.
In Codi’s portion of the narration, Kingsolver makes use of flashbacks to Codi’s childhood, including significant moments in her relationship with Hallie and Doc Homer. Kingsolver also makes use of Codi’s dreams, particularly a recurring one in which Codi suddenly goes blind and seems to lose herself altogether.
Doc Homer’s chapters, which are prefaced by his full first name, Homero, are all short, most of them no more than two pages in length. Unlike Codi’s chapters, these narrations are told in the present tense, even though many of the events described took place many years in the past. The significance of this narrative technique is that Doc Homer’s failing mind cannot tell the difference between past and present. Traumatic events from the past co-exist in his mind with things that are happening in the present moment.
C Image and Metaphor
In the first chapter, Kingsolver uses a powerful image to set the scene for one of the questions the novel seeks to address, which is, why can two people from the same family, exposed to the same influences as children, become so different as adults? Doc Homer gazes at his two young children, Codi and Hallie, as they lie sleeping. They are completely intertwined, almost as one person. It is not possible to see where one body stops and the other begins. When one breathes, they both move; “Their long hair falls together across the sheet, the colors blending, the curled strands curving gently around the straight.” The image illustrates the closeness between the two sisters, while foreshadowing the central question.
The same chapter reveals Kingsolver’s use of metaphor to create thematic links between the different elements of her plot. Doc Homer feels that a river separates him from his children, and the term is used metaphorically. Thematically, the river image as a metaphor for separation is connected to the riverbed on which Codi later disposes of her baby, and this is in turn linked to the river that is being polluted by Black Mountain Mining-yet another unnatural occurrence, one that separates the human community from the world of nature.