An American Marriage

Themes and Colors
Love and Marriage in Crisis Theme Icon
Parenthood as a Choice Theme Icon
Appearances vs. Reality Theme Icon
The Effects of Incarceration Theme Icon
Race and Class Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in An American Marriage, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Tayari Jones’ 2018 novel An American Marriage expands upon one of the most common topics of modern literature: love and marriage. While many stories of marriage focus on some of the more typical challenges faced by couples—such as infidelity, competition, or class differences between partners—Jones’ book centers on the repercussions of a world-shattering injustice on Roy and Celestial, a black couple living in Atlanta, Georgia: after having been married for just 18 months, Roy…

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Beyond exploring the difficulties of love and marriage, Jones dissects the demands and expectations of parenthood throughout the novel. Jones challenges and redefines conventional notions of parenting, ultimately presenting it a commitment that transcends bloodlines. In An American Marriage, parenthood requires conscious effort and great maturity. It is the mindful choice to provide for and support a child—and a choice that must be continually re-made.

Varying conceptions of fatherhood, in particular, are present throughout…

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In An American Marriage, Jones contrasts the reality of life with the appearances people choose to project. Throughout the novel it is possible to identify the ways in which characters shape the narratives of their lives to be more palatable to others. The novel suggests that this gap between appearances and reality can harm to the very thing a public image is supposed to represent.

Celestial’s dolls—or poupées, as Roy suggests she…

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In An American Marriage, Jones reveals the extraordinary effect mass incarceration has on the lives of black Americans. The tightly-focused narrative reveals how incarceration can destroy families, placing them at a social disadvantage from which it is difficult to recover. The novel further suggests that incarceration is a destructive force with little practical ties to justice, and which does more to harm society than it does to keep it safe.

Roy is a young…

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In An American Marriage, Jones notably focuses on a well-educated, successful black couple to explore the tensions between partners of different economic backgrounds as well as the broader intersection of race and class. The fact that Roy and Celestial’s upward mobility cannot shield them from the criminal justice system’s prejudicial assumptions about black people allows Jones to specifically highlight the insidious reach of racism.

Even before Roy’s arrest, much of the tension in…

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