Themes

When our short lives end, most of us leave some things undone. But we do leave behind traces of our lives for others to find so our life is carried on. For writers and artists, the traces are very obvious—paintings, plays, novels etc. But for most people this is more difficult. Children hear stories from their parents but the process of carrying on the lives of parents and relatives is hit or miss. Jerry left behind his letters to Rhoda and she left traces of things she loved – Jerry, newspaper clippings, poems, photographs and some clothes. 

What explains the strong bond of love that held Rhoda and Jerry together through the ordeal of Rhoda’s illness and the couples’ separation during a very turbulent period when Jews and “reds” (they were both) were under attack by the authorities and the larger society? The short answer is sex, culture and politics. 

Jerry and Rhoda shared a political outlook. They considered themselves to be anarchists and Jerry was likely a member of the anarcho-syndicalist union, the International Workers of the World (IWW). They championed a number of causes including an effort to free condemned anarchists, Sacco and Vanzetti.  Writer Bill Bryson called the 1920s “an age of loathing.” The loathing in the U.S. was, in part, directed at African Americans, immigrants, women, Jews and “reds.” 

The Dil Pickle Club, frequented by Jerry, Rhoda and their friends, represented a counter culture that was in direct opposition to many features of the “age of loathing.” Scribbled on the short doorway to the club were the words “Step High, Stoop Low and Leave Your Dignity Outside!”