The Hotel New Hampshire concerns maturation, the passage from childhood to adulthood, and it involves coming to terms with one’s desires, with the real world, and with the world of illusion. The novel suggests that one must confront one’s own desires, the “bears” within one, and must come to terms with the society that does not allow those “bears” to live. (State o’ Maine is shot, and Susie is whole only when she renounces her bear suit.) The failure to experience life results in defeat and death (Lilly and Egg), while initiation experiences lead to one’s testing one’s illusions and accepting life as it is.
In Vienna, the children hear a story about a street clown named the King of Mice, who jumps out a window to his death. On the box containing his pets are the words “Life is serious, but art is fun.” While life is serious, Irving suggests that one should pass open windows—that is, one should not escape but live life. Lilly’s death (she jumps from an open window) suggests the inability to grow; John, Franny, and Frank avoid open windows in spite of their problems. “Sorrow” does float—the bobbing stuffed dog is the only sign of the plane crash in the ocean—and sorrow indeed appears in the novel in a variety of forms. Two are prostitution and terrorism, both linked to Venice and, through parallels, to each other. At the end of the novel, John and Franny have learned that they can lead productive, rewarding lives despite their problems. In fact, Susie has, like Franny, overcome her rape trauma, and she and John convert the third Hotel New Hampshire into a rape crisis center.