Last Updated September 5, 2023.
In the nonfiction book House, Pulitzer Prize winning author Tracy Kidder plays the part of reporter, an observer embedded in the process of the building of a family's new home in Massachusetts. The major themes of the book revolve around the complexity of human interaction in a construction project, the difference between the initial dream of what the house will be and what the house actually becomes as it's built.
All of the parties involved have their own points of view concerning how things should be done—their visions as well as the financial realities. Architect Bill Rawn is personal friends with the owners, the Souweines, and it's Rawn's first commission done on his own. Perhaps because of that, Rawn wants to create a house that is both a work of art and a comfortable habitation. This leads to clashes between the two parties over certain issues. The builders want to use nothing but the finest materials, and the Souweines have financial reservations over the costs. The theme of ownership, of whose house it is, runs throughout the book. The architect and builders/craftsmen have a viable investment in how the house comes out. It's their work with their name is on it, therefore, in a sense, they have some ownership it, but in the end, it is the Souweines's name that will be on the mailbox.
Another theme is the sheer complexity of such a project in modern construction. Kidder shows the reader a list of the materials Henry David Thoreau used in making his little cabin at Walden Pond compared with the enormous list used for this house. This is a reflection of the growing complexity of our modern society and life. Once there were three television channels and now there are countless. Because of this inherent complexity, it is a built-in truism that modern human relations have also become more complicated. The house can bee seen as a microcosmic symbol of society, and the building of it, as presented by Kidder, a template for issues that inevitably arise in people working together for a common goal. There is a theme that people themselves don't start out inherently confrontational or difficult—rather, the difficulty of the work forces them to become that way at times for the greater good of the project.
In the end, the builders and the Souweines arrive at a result they can both live with. There are lingering dissatisfactions, but each has stood their ground on the issues that they deemed important. Out of the building of a house, a mutual respect between the various parties has been forged, pointing to a theme that there is positive value to be found still, even in our stressful modern times, through human cooperation and shared enterprise.