The Golden Age


Joan London

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Themes and Colors
Survival Theme Icon
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Vocation Theme Icon
Isolation vs. Solitude Theme Icon
Strength, Physicality, and Femininity Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Golden Age, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.


The Golden Age, Joan London’s novel set in a hospital for children recovering from polio in 1950s Australia, focuses primarily on the Gold family—Ida, Meyer, and their thirteen-year-old son Frank. Immigrants who fled Hungary after World War II, the Golds live through two major traumas: the Holocaust and the childhood scourge of polio, twin struggles for survival that come to mirror and complement each other throughout the novel. Ida and…

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Parenthood and Growing Up

As pre-adolescent children, Frank and his fellow patients at the Golden Age are materially and emotionally dependent on their parents. Although familial relationships are often fraught throughout the novel, London emphasizes the fierce, unconditional love and devotion that exist between children and their parents. However, all the children at the Golden Age are separated from their families and grappling with a disease their parents can’t fully understand and against which they are powerless. As a…

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The Golden Age is permeated by a respect for work, as well as for those who perform it diligently and well. Even in the midst of crisis and trauma, many characters are defined and motivated by their vocation (that is, the strong feeling that they are suited to a particular career)—whether it be Frank’s incipient conviction that he is a poet, Ida’s devotion to the piano, or Sister Penny’s almost preternatural facility as a nurse…

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Isolation vs. Solitude

Many of the novel’s characters experience feelings of crippling isolation. Suffering from a socially stigmatized disease, the children at the Golden Age are cut off from their family and friends. Meanwhile, adults such as Meyer and Ida Gold feel bewildered and out of place in the unfamiliar society to which they’ve been forced to immigrate. At the same time, many of the novel’s characters crave and value solitude. Frank constantly seeks out his own space…

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Strength, Physicality, and Femininity

The novel devotes much attention to bodies both weak and strong. Polio has transformed the bodies of the children at the Golden Age, limiting their motility for the rest of their lives and rendering them “deformed” and “incapable” in the eyes of their community. However, in order to fight the disease and to build new lives during their recovery, the children develop a mental and emotional maturity that notably contrasts with the frailty of…

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