Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 366
The Great Alone was written by novelist Kristin Hannah and published in 2018. It tells the story of the Allbright family, led by father Ernt Allbright. Ernt was in the Vietnam War, and he is now—suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder—a volatile and aggressive alcoholic. When he is given a cabin in Kaneq, Alaska, he decides that he, his wife, Cora, and his thirteen-year-old daughter, Leni, will move from Seattle to live there off the grid. As well as being an emotional family saga, the novel also gives an account of life in 1970s America.
One of the most significant themes of the novel is post-traumatic stress disorder and its effects, both on Ernt and on his family. On returning from the Vietnam War, Ernt is not the husband or father that Cora and Leni remember. He has become aggressive, is an alcoholic, and is unable to hold down a job. However, Cora believes that with love and support, she can heal him. Like any ill person, she believes that all he needs is treatment:
It’s like his back is broken, Mama had said, and you don’t stop loving a person when they’re hurt. You get stronger so they can lean on you. He needs me. Us. (7)
However, in later chapters, Ernt is treated less as a sympathetic character, as Hannah reveals that his behavior is not simply a side effect of his PTSD but is also due to inadequacies in his character.
Another significant theme is that of love. It is not just positive love but also negative and toxic love. The toxic love is shown in the relationship of Ernt and Cora. However, positive and supportive love is shown in the relationship between Cora and Leni, Leni and her friendship with Matthew, and the love and support offered by the Kaneq community.
Finally, Hannah explores the theme of shame. Much of Ernt’s unhappiness and paranoia could be helped if he was more honest and less proud. However, he chooses not to discuss how he is feeling, and this, in turn, also leads to similar repression in Cora and Leni. Hannah shows that honesty leads to happiness while repression causes unhappiness.
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