What are the themes in Rock Springs by Richard Ford? This is a study guide question posted by eNotes Editorial. Please clearly identify at least 3 themes and devote a separate paragraph to a discussion of each one

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There is no such thing as a fresh start.

Earl Middleton thinks that he is going to get to Florida, a haven where he has friends who will not turn him in for the crimes he has committed. He steals a really nice car—a Mercedes that likely belongs to a doctor—hoping that its luxury and status will prove to be a good omen for his new life. Florida sounds like a dream: a place where it is warm all the time, where he is unknown to authorities, where he can start "fresh," but it seems telling that Earl does not make it there during the action of the story. Not only do we not see him arrive, but he has to steal a car—a habit and necessity from his old life—in order to try to get there. The fact that this car breaks down seems like another bad omen, a sign that the fresh start Earl dreams of will never come to fruition.

The American Dream is not within reach.

The car breaks down in sight of a huge gold mine, a symbol of the American Dream. Although it seems like the mine is so close that "anyone could go in and take what they wanted, . . . that obviously wasn't true," Earl says. He realizes only later that the gold mine "was a greater distance from us than it seemed, though it seemed huge and near" then. Earl feels like just spotting the gold mine is a good sign because he feels that means they're "'getting closer'" to a better life and because some "people never see it at all." However, even though it looks like a person could just walk right up and help himself to the gold, this is not the case. A person would be stopped long before they ever reached it.

People tend to judge others rather than empathize with them.

In the end, Earl looks in the motel parking lot to find another car to steal so that he and Cheryl can head to Florida tomorrow. However, he considers how he must look to anyone watching him. He asks a number of rhetorical questions:

Would you think he was trying to get his head cleared? Would you think he was trying to get ready for a day when trouble would come down on him? Would you think his girlfriend was leaving him? Would you think he had a daughter? Would you think he was anybody like you?

The reader would likely answer "no" to these questions. If one saw a man looking into cars in a motel parking lot in the middle of the night, one would likely assume that he was going to break into one and/or steal it. One would be unlikely, Earl believes, to consider that man's humanity, to think about his family, his broken heart, or his dreams; one would very likely not assume that this man was trying to get a fresh start. We would judge him, instead of empathizing with him.

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