Themes

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More specific than Bach's advice is the book's implication that if one does what he likes and ignores everything else, he will be fulfilled and transcend even death with few problems. Stated directly, this message seems naive and impossible. But as the book heightens and oversimplifies, the reader can complicate the meaning as he wishes, accepting the allegory conditionally and concluding that its emotion laden implications might well be true.

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One reason the reader might do this is that the book's themes are presented mystically. As the story progresses, the reader may, largely subconsciously, call up his own connotations of the many value words sprinkled through the book — speed, love, excellence, discovery ("breakthrough"), time, and knowledge. These names accumulate energy and merge into a diffuse unity at the end. As he reaches perfection, Jonathan finds it applying to virtually everything: perfect speed, love, honor, freedom, wisdom, truth, self-esteem, beauty, spirit, immortality, and so on. At this point many readers feel a heightened self-knowledge and a sentimental certainty of painless success. This mystical identification seems apocalyptic and uplifting.

Broadly applied, the book's allegory collates diverse religious beliefs. Mary Baker Eddy's teachings in Christian Science (which Bach was reading during the years he wrote the book) include the illusoriness of birth, death, and evil, and the principle that the true person is the abstract, eternal "soul." (Ironically, the Christian Science Monitor refused to run ads for the book — suggesting that the metaphysics may be heretical.) Hinduism teaches that perfection is the goal of life, and Buddhism that the heavens are multiple; but a willful "proud" self such as Jonathan's runs counter to both the Eastern religions and Christianity, for Jonathan resembles a Faust without Satan, or some legendary American pioneer whose life consists of continual discovery.

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