Far North Themes

The main themes in Far North are human nature, hope and the future, and idealism and reality.

  • Human nature: While Makepeace herself is often remarkably generous, her experiences have shown her that human nature can be selfish, violent, cruel, and corrupt.
  • Hope and the future: Airplanes represent human potential to Makepeace, who expresses her hope for the future by collecting books and writing her memoirs for her child.
  • Idealism and reality: The communities of Evangeline and Horeb demonstrate the respective dangers of clinging to and twisting one’s moral ideals when faced with the complexities of reality.

Themes

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Last Updated on April 29, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 900

Human Nature

Throughout the novel, Makepeace struggles with the corruption and potential inherent in humanity. She sees herself as a realist in comparison to her father. She does not live as a pacifist and kills people that threaten her life. Yet Makepeace has a nearly bottomless reserve of generosity. She is willing to work on Ping’s behalf to help her raise a child. Makepeace wants to believe that there is hope for the future of humanity. However, now that the order and government of the world has fallen, Makepeace sees the worst aspects of human nature all around her.

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The conflict between what she sees and what she hopes for is introduced early in the story. Makepeace reflects that humans

will happily kill you twice over for a hot meal.... On the other hand, with a full belly, and a good harvest in the barn, and a fire in the hearth, there’s nothing so charming, so generous, no one more decent than a well-fed man.

Over the course of her travels, Makepeace observes few reasons to think of humans as anything other than selfish animals struggling to survive. As such, she rejects the teaching that people should turn the other cheek and argues that if someone hits her, she’ll hit back. Makepeace’s understanding of human nature allows her to survive the fall of Evangeline, the treachery of Horeb, and the prison barracks of the Base.

Hope and the Future

Although it is not clearly stated how the world ended, Makepeace believes that governments around the world have fallen. She reflects that this means that no one is left to carry on the knowledge and learning that humanity had spent thousands of years acquiring. In spite of the circumstances, Makepeace works for the future, likening her survival to the story of Noah and the Ark. Although Makepeace doesn’t believe that human beings behave well during hard times, she does believe that they have potential.

The planes best represent the potential that Makepeace sees in humanity. She refers to the creation of aircrafts as a miracle and admires their sleek design, which stands in contrast to the random lines of nature. For Makepeace, airplanes represent thousands of years of theoretical and practical learning. Because she sees a plane, she decides not to kill herself, she leaves Evangeline, and she even returns to the Base. Makepeace has hope for the future and is looking for something in which she can invest her actions.

Idealism and Reality

Makepeace is raised in a community of Quakers who struggle to reconcile the purity of their ideals with the harsh nature of their reality. Her father, James Hatfield, represents an adherence to ideals. Even though he sees violence and desperation around him, he urges his followers not to bow down before it. In this way, it can be argued that James Hatfield is the most moral character in the novel.

Hatfield's rival, Eben Callard, urges Evangeline to sacrifice their ideals to live in the world around them. Hatfield warns that this will lead to a slippery slope of behavior. In many ways, Hatfield proves to be prophetic. To make his vision a reality, Callard rapes and brutalizes Makepeace in order to destroy her father. Although Callard is driven from Evangeline, the town adopts his “eye for an eye” worldview and creates the constabulary school.

Although it can be argued that Callard is the villain of the novel, Theroux does not wholly endorse Hatfield’s pacifist vision. Hatfield’s survival ultimately depends upon isolation. Although Makepeace is loyal to his ideals, she is very critical of her father, noting that he is more easily able to forgive murderers and thieves than he is truancy and disagreement from his children. In fact, Makepeace recalls that her father “loved ideas more than men because they were less contradictory.” Human life is more complex than Hatfield’s ideals allow.

Furthermore, Theroux shows how easily the ideals of the Bible are twisted, particularly in Horeb. Reverend Boathwaite claims to follow the tenants of the Bible, but he is quick to argue that it sanctions capital punishment and he and his flock, who faithfully attend Boathwaite’s sermons, easily rationalize selling Makepeace into slavery. Makepeace reflects that mercy and love are not enough to keep Horeb’s community peaceful. They have twisted their ideals to survive.

Makepeace is one of the few characters who try to reconcile ideals with reality. Although Makepeace is presented as a practical character, she holds true to her own principles. She understands that people are capable of violence and that no one will protect her. However, from this realization, Makepeace is able to forgive people that wrong her without sacrificing her safety. She deals ruthlessly with those who abuse or betray her, but she has held on to her humanity.

Ultimately, Theroux’s post-apocalyptic setting invites readers to consider their own values and ideals. No matter how idealistic, people operate within an imperfect reality. In Far North, humanity struggles to live in a world that has gone so far north that there are no directions left on its moral compass. The city of Polyn was built around the gigantic bronze bust that speaks to the nobility of the human spirit. When Makepeace enters the city, it is a toxic wasteland. Although life is difficult, Makepeace grieves over the atrocities that humanity has allowed.

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