Being Alive, Not Just Living

Going Bovine’smost important theme is that life is not about staying alive physically. Author Libba Bray suggests that life is about challenging oneself, taking risks, and even accepting the fact of death. Before he receives his diagnosis of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, Cameron makes every effort not to do the things that really matter in life. After his diagnosis, he drops his guard and learns to care about life for the first time. He fails at saving himself but succeeds at saving others. He rejects a life of constant happiness at CESSNAB, choosing instead a life that includes challenges.

Bray complicates her point about the importance of being alive by revealing at the end of the book that Cameron’s whole road trip may have been a hallucination. She makes it clear that Cameron has fulfilled his wish to live, and he has grown as a person. He has succeeded even if none of his experiences have been real.

Destiny and Choice

The world of Going Bovine is governed by both destiny and free will. From the beginning of the book, Dulcie insists to Cameron that destiny is not fixed. People can make choices that affect their futures—but they can never predict exactly what their futures will be.

This idea is illustrated with the motif of the “necessary part.” On one of Cameron’s stops on his trip, an old man gives him a magic screw, saying it will be a “necessary part” later on. Later, Cameron meets a college kid, Keith, who is destined to join the military and get blown up by a land mine. Cameron shows Keith the screw, and Keith laughs at the double entendre in the phrase “magic screw.” Keith takes the screw and later gives it to a TV talk show host at the Party House. Some of the TV executives see him do it, and they offer to let him do a few TV bits involving his screw. Keith agrees, and in the process he changes his plans for joining the military. Unbeknownst to him, the magic screw was the “necessary part” that prevented him from dying an early death. Keith’s choices...

(The entire section is 862 words.)