Study Guide

Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World

by Tracy Kidder

Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World Themes

Themes

Vocation and Service
Vocation and service is a recurrent theme in the book Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World. Dr. Farmer's work goes beyond a career in that he spent everyday of his life, all day long and every weekend, working to alleviate the substandard medical conditions in Haiti. It is obvious that Paul Farmer is committed to improving the lives of the poor, especially in the area of infectious diseases which was his specialty, helping those with tuberculosis and AIDS. "Career" does not summarize Dr. Paul Farmer's work in Haiti, nor does it describe his work at Bingham and Women’s hospital in Boston. It was more like a calling to service. While working at the hospital in Boston as an infectious disease specialist, he never forgot Haiti; he started a health care charity, Partners in Health (PIH) to fund medical centers in Haiti to alleviate the suffering of Haitian people.

Dr. Farmer's role models were mostly priests and nuns and a few anthropologists whom immersed themselves in the people's lives. His first role model was Sister Juliana, a nun working in North Carolina who helped migrant workers. Father Jack was a priest he admired and worked with who also lead a life of service. In addition, Dr. Jim Kim also exhibited this dedication to he poor. When Dr. Farmer was challenged, he often quoted Margaret Mead, the famous anthropologist, who said, “Never underestimate the ability of a small group of committed individuals to change the world.”

Farmer expected others with whom he worked to be as self-sacrificing as himself. Often he would become impatient because of obstacles that prevented him from realizing his goals. People were attracted to his excellence, commitment and sincere heart; and those who were equally hard-working followed his lead and dedicated themselves to improving the public health conditions in Haiti.

Religion
Religion is a major theme in the Mountains Beyond Mountains, especially Catholicism and the indigenous religion of Haiti, sorcery and voodoo. During Dr. Farmer's treks into the country villages to care for ill people, he often encountered voodoo relics and villagers who attributed their illnesses to a voodoo spell. Many of the people Dr. Farmer worked alongside were Catholic priests who were in Haiti as missionaries. In Haiti, the official religion is Catholicism; however sorcery is practiced widely by the villagers. Voodoo is practiced by almost Haitians; and Catholicism takes on elements of voodoo, such as carrying around handcrafted tokens as a form of protection against spells. The Haitians believe that evil spirits can be sent by people to wreak havoc in someone's life, frequently in the form of disease. Often times, the sick are sent outside to live, by their own family members, in an effort to avoid evil spirits...

(The entire section is 1189 words.)