The novel's theme, one of Saul Bellow's favorites, is the continual human effort to find love that is both real and lasting. When the main characters glimpse a relationship that seems to offer more than just the physical, it turns out to be ephemeral. What is eternal is the old sexual itch, which may or may not involve love. The resulting confusion leads to a gender battle that Bellow presents as alternately tragic and comic. The narrator of the novel defines its theme as "sexual abuse" and sees no reason why this term should be limited to the manipulation of children for the gratification of the powerful.