Themes

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 355

The Big Rock Candy Mountain is the story of a spiritual quest. Each of the three principal characters is searching for his or her own Eden. Bo seeks the freedom of wide-open spaces with few social constraints. He pulls his family around with him as he searches for the big opportunity that will make him financially independent. He seems unaware that he is as much running away as he is searching. His brutal childhood chases him wherever he goes; his father's beatings have made him an angry man who is seldom sure of what he is angry about. His Eden would allow him to dissipate his angry energies in hunting and competing against nature for survival. Attracted by a frontier that no longer exists, pushed by a past he cannot escape, Bo is a tragic figure.

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Elsa's Eden would be a nice house in a quiet town where she could set down roots. She wants to be respected in a community and to share her time with friends. Her dream is one that American families have long cherished: healthy children, a house of their own, community service, long-lasting friendships, and good educations for the children. Life with a frontiersman does not fulfill such dreams. She ends up focusing on her children, trying to give them a good family life. Perhaps she smothers Bruce's personality, who as a weak child seems to need extra care. Although Elsa's failure to achieve her dream makes her a melancholy figure, she at least knows what she wants. Neither Bo nor Bruce is sure of what his goal is; Elsa's certainty makes her the emotional core of the novel. It is always clear how far her actual life is from the life she hoped for.

By the end of The Big Rock Candy Mountain, Bruce is still unsure of what he wants. His Eden seems to be one in which he is the center of attention and where his dynamic and overbearing father is absent. Bruce is overshadowed by his father's powerful physical presence and strong personality. He wants to escape his father's influence and to stand on his own.

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