An American Marriage

Tayari Jones

A young couple struggle with the division that forms when one of them is imprisoned.

Marriage is between two people. There is no studio audience.

An American Marriage is a novel which shifts perspectives between a husband and wife, focusing on the trials and tribulations of being a young black couple in America. The novel is initially written in past tense, opening with Roy as he gives a brief summary of his life so far, his climb from childhood poverty into building a more economically stable life with Celestial. Celestial, a struggling artist, and Roy, a textbook salesman, hope to make financial success from selling Celestial’s work.

First covering the woes that feature in their early married life, the novel dramatically changes upon Roy being falsely accused of a crime and his subsequent incarceration. The story then unravels as a series of letters sent between Roy and Celestial, along with their surrounding family, functioning as an epistolary novel.

An American Marriage is a poignant novel, covering race, American society and, unsurprisingly, marriage in an honest and visceral form. The real focus of the novel is the relationship between Roy and Celestial. The plot is secondary to the interactions between these two characters and it seems that the main intention was to provide a full insight into their personalities, centred around the event of Roy’s imprisonment. Jones successfully builds realistic characters, dedicating most of the book to her two central protagonists so that we as an audience get a deep understanding of them both as individuals and as a couple. The novel is an interesting read, largely because of how it covers current issues of injustice in America and their ramifications on ordinary people. Furthermore, the novel questions what it means to be married and how interpretations of love and marriage can vary from person to person.

What is the impact of Roy’s decision at the end of the novel – why do you think he chose to leave Celestial and was it of comfort to him that he had Davina waiting for him?

The novel covers issues of racial injustice in American society. How does it portray this and is it done in a way that is outspoken and a call to action or does it show the injustices in a more subversive way? Why do you think Tayari Jones chose this approach?

How does the use of an epistolary format affect how elements of the story are communicated? Did this provide a biased view of characters and how does this format correspond with the plot of the novel?

Do you think that the novel has too many supporting characters? If so, which characters do you think could be removed from the plot?

What does the ending of the novel say about modern marriage and did you think it was an appropriate conclusion?

Does the fact that Roy and Celestial want different things in their separate relationships at the end suggest that their marriage was likely to fail even without Roy’s incarceration?

What was your opinion on the character of Andre? Do you think his actions were just or did you not approve of him?



Roy travels to Atlanta where he is overcome with anger seeing Andre and Celestial together. He feels betrayed by Andre and the two engage in a violent confrontation with Celestial threatening to call the cops. The physical altercation stops, with Roy expressing his feelings and protesting his innocence to the crimes he was convicted of. In a moment of despair, Roy rams his head against ‘Old Hickey’, the tree outside their marital home. Celestial pleads for him to stop and intervenes. Celestial agrees to stay with Roy out of a sense of duty for their marriage. Before they are about to become intimate, Roy sees that Celestial is unhappy, he tries to see whether she still has affection for him by revealing his previous sexual encounter with Davina, a confession that draws only a meek reaction from Celestial. Based on her response, Roy sees that Celestial no longer has strong feelings of love for him and so he holds her rather than engaging in intercourse.

The Epilogue takes the form of two letters exchanged between Roy and Celestial, the two of them are no longer together, suggesting that Roy left. Celestial writes to Roy at Christmas, asking whether their marriage really meant something special. She writes of her happy life with Andre and that, although she hasn’t remarried, the two are expecting a child. Roy reveals he lives back in Eloe, running a business with Roy Sr and in a relationship with Davina. Although Roy has no plans of fatherhood (Davina has already got a teenage son and doesn’t want any more children), he does want to give marriage another go.

  • An American Marriage was chosen by Oprah Winfrey as an Oprah Book club pick and she has announced plans to adapt the novel.
  • Barrack Obama listed An American Marriage on his 2018 summer reading list.
  • An American Marriage was shortlisted for the 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction.

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