Themes

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 368

The themes of Deep River include memory, grief, and inner peace.

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Memory is a major theme in the novel. Each character is motivated to travel by a memory that haunts or places weight on them. For Isobe, it's the death of his wife. For Kiguchi, it's the men that he fought alongside in World War II who died. For Mitsuko, it's the memory of a man whom she seduced and turned away from God. For Numada, it's the animals that he feels connected to and to whom he speaks his truths when he can't feel the same comfort with humans.

Grief or guilt haunts each of the characters in different ways. Isobe is searching for someone that he can love as much as he did his wife, but he is unable to find anyone with whom he connects as he did with her. He loved her a great deal, even if he wasn't always able to express it. Mitsuko feels guilt over the man she turned away from the church, even when she hears he's in India still living out his beliefs, and she struggles with her feelings about other people and God. Kiguchi is stalked by grief over the men who died as well as his friend who killed himself over an act of cannibalism. Numada feels guilt over a pet bird who died as he himself recovered from tuberculosis. He believed it died so that he could live. Grief and guilt are what make the characters feel less than whole. Only by resolving them can they be free to live happier, more fulfilled lives.

Each of the characters works to feel inner peace. When Isobe realizes he'll only ever love Keiko and remembers her final words about reincarnation, it helps him find the peace he's never had before—a peace he never found in all the times he was unfaithful to her. Mitsuko reconnects with Otsu and can let go of her guilt. Numada remembers his childhood dog and friend. He also finds ways to show thanks for the fact that he recovered. Kiguchi plans to hold a memorial service for the dead. These actions on their trip help the characters become more spiritual, self-realized people.

Themes

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 199

There are many different themes in this novel. These are a few of the prominent ones:

Death: Several of the characters struggle with the memory of loved ones and close friends. This pushes them to travel on a pilgrimage. For example, Isobe’s wife passes. Kiguchi is haunted by the memory of fellow soldiers who were killed in World War II. Kiguchi ultimately hosts a memorial service in remembrance of those soldiers.

Love/Romance: After Isobe’s wife passes away, he is interested in finding someone he can love as much as he did her. However, he struggles to find anyone who lives up to their relationship. He eventually makes peace with the fact that he may never love anyone else.

Religion: Each of the characters is on a pilgrimage to make peace with past events. Mitsuko feels guilty throughout the story for turning a man away from the church. She ultimately meets up with him and is able come to terms with God again. In the story, they visit Buddha’s birthplace.

Balance: The storylines each contain a balance. Where there is a yin, there is a yang. There are stories of resurrection and reincarnation, birth and death.

Themes

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 163

The novel is primarily concerned with the restorative power of pilgrimage. Through presenting the stories of a group whose perspectives range from atheism to devout adherence to several different faiths, the author shows the relative importance of religion in individual lives.

The weight of memory in holding people back is likewise explored, as the four protagonists have trouble coping with the present and planning for the future. The difficulty of reconciling cultural and political conflicts is another significant theme.

The quartet are Japanese visitors to India, on a combined tour-pilgrimage in hopes of healing wounds and atoning for past errors. The metaphor of the river as spiritual truth as it intersects with the physical river, the holy Ganges, is an underlying theme.

As the other main destination of their tour is the Buddha's birthplace, while the Ganges connects to death, another key theme is the interconnectedness of birth and death, including themes of resurrection and reincarnation, depending on the specific character's religious views.

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