Themes

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Last Updated on February 1, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1299

The Need for Friendship, Love, and Intimacy

The main theme of the novel is the human need for love, affection, and friendship, as well as the complexity that follows from that need. Rooney showcases the intimate—often overlapping—connection between love and friendship, but she also examines how they can be worlds apart.

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All of the main characters struggle with the inability to define love and to explain their emotions. Frances—the novel’s protagonist and narrator—is someone who felt “lonely and unworthy of real friendship” for the majority of her childhood. She grew up with an alcoholic father and a mother who tried to keep the family together but failed to do so. Meeting Bobbi changes Frances’s life; their close rapport is a source of joy, but at the same time she finds herself wishing to be more like Bobbi, which awakens her insecurities.

When Frances meets Nick, she realizes that aside from being physically attracted to him, she also yearns for his “personal approval.” She wants to leave a good impression and to be “someone worthy of praise and of love.”

Maybe having him witness how much others approved of me, without taking any of the risks necessary to earn Nick’s personal approval, made me feel capable of speaking to him again, as if I also was an important person with lots of admirers like he was, as if there was nothing inferior about me. But the acclaim also felt like part of the performance itself, the best part, and the most pure expression of what I was trying to do, which was to make myself into this kind of person: someone worthy of praise, worthy of love.

On the other hand, Bobbi is someone who isn’t afraid to hide her vulnerability behind her mental strength. She tries to find logic in love and to explain it as a phenomenon, but no matter how satisfying that would prove to be theoretically, in reality, it is a much different story. Despite her strong opinions on the matter, Bobbi is obviously very much in love with Frances, who considers herself to be “anti-love.” This becomes clear in the messages they exchange between them:

Bobbi: if you look at love as something other than an interpersonal phenomenon
Bobbi: and try to understand it as a social value system
Bobbi: it’s both antithetical to capitalism, in that it challenges the axiom of selfishness
Bobbi: which dictates the whole logic of inequality
Bobbi: and yet also it’s subservient and facilitatory
Bobbi: i.e. mothers selflessly raising children without any profit motive
Bobbi: which seems to contradict the demands of the market at one level
Bobbi: and yet actually just functions to provide workers for free
me: yes
me: capitalism harnesses “love” for profit
me: love is the discursive practice and unpaid labour is the effect
me: but I mean, I get that, I’m anti love as such
Bobbi: that’s vapid frances
Bobbi: you have to do more than say you’re anti things.

Nick certainly experiences love with Frances, despite his being married to another woman. Meeting Frances helps Nick understand the difference between being in love in a way that traps him in his emotions and, on the other hand, being in love in a felicitous and freely expressive way. Thus, defining love might seem improbable, but to discover its meaning, one only needs to experience it.

The Multidimensional Nature of Infidelity

Melissa and Nick have an unusual relationship. It is obvious that they care for one another and perhaps love each other, and yet they are both unfaithful. When Philip—Frances’s colleague and friend—learns that Frances is sleeping with Nick, he tells her that he cannot believe that she “let someone take advantage of her like that.” He firmly believes that adultery is morally wrong and deeply hurtful for all parties involved. On the other hand, when Melissa learns that Nick is...

(The entire section contains 1299 words.)

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