The most dominant theme in Gary Paulsen's novel The Winter Room is the circle of life.
The novel's structure provides one major piece of evidence that the circle of life is the most dominant theme. As the novel progresses, Eldon, the youngest son and narrator, describes each different season of the year, the different farm labor activities in each season, and his reaction to each season. It's very clear that his descriptions do not fit only one year but all years in a life. The march of seasons is an endless circle as the seasons take us from nature's moments of death to rebirth and back again. Just like the marching seasons, the boys and the family endlessly progress through their cycle of farm chores to ensure the progress of life.
A second piece of evidence that shows the circle of life is a dominant theme concerns references to the slaughter season. The slaughter season happens in fall, just after all of the labors of harvesting are over, and it is Eldon's most dreaded season because he can't bear to hear the animals suffer. It's clear to Eldon that even his father and uncle hate the slaughter season due to their silence and seriousness as they labor. Yet, as Father explains in an attempt to console Eldon, the slaughter season is necessary: "It's the way of it ... Something has to die so we can live" ("Fall"). Father's explanation of the slaughter season is vital for developing the theme of the circle of life for it shows how life leads to death, which leads to more life and so on--an endless circle.
Stories about Uncle David's youth further help to portray the theme of the cycle of life. In addition, they help develop the minor themes of growing up and maturing. The eldest brother Wayne finds it difficult to believe Uncle David's stories of his youth because he sees his uncle so very differently in his old age. Yet, Uncle David is able to prove to both boys his stories are true, and both boys are able to accept what it means to mature into adulthood and to age.