Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 221
In The Great Alone by Kristen Hannah, the land of Alaska and Leni’s father Ernt (a Vietnam War veteran suffering from PTSD) are both portrayed as beautiful and evil. Alaska is breathtaking but unforgiving—the violent forces of nature inspire terror, as do Ernt’s violent outbursts. The duality of good and evil, and of strength and fragility, run through the plot of the story, as does the sense of isolation people who run to Alaska seek.
A prominent theme in the story is survival—humans surviving nature in the vast, wild land of Alaska, and humans surviving war in in the brutal jungles of Vietnam. Surviving, however, amounts to a battle against uncontrollable forces, both in the physical world and in the human psyche.
The long period of winter darkness is when Ernt changes from a troubled war veteran deserving of sympathy to a dark and dangerous monster—in the same way the Alaskan land holds the potential for destruction even in its beauty, and inevitably explodes. It appears that Hannah is also likening the long period of darkness in the Alaskan winter to the metaphorical period of darkness during the Vietnam War. Hannah also conveys the overriding sense of isolation in Alaska, and in Ernt’s mind, as he struggles against the terrors that lurk in his memory.
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