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Last Updated on May 7, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1242

Loneliness and Love

Loneliness defines the relationships of nearly all of the novel’s main characters. Lila has felt alone for the majority of her life; when Doll takes her from her parents’ neglectful home and the two begin to live their lives as migrant workers, Lila and Doll connect through their mutual struggle for survival. They understand that they are alone in the world, but they also know that they are alone together:

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Doll may have been the loneliest woman in the world, and she was the loneliest child, and there they were, the two of them together, keeping each other warm in the rain.

As someone who has experienced abandonment in her life, Lila feels that the world is a dangerous place and that people shouldn’t be trusted; she believes that she is someone who is undeserving of love and affection. She doesn’t allow herself to get close to people, because she is afraid that they’ll end up leaving her. Thus, she finds comfort and even solace in her loneliness, reasoning that

The loneliness was bad, but it was better than anything else she could think of.

When Doll disappears (and presumably dies), Lila realizes that loneliness can consume a person to the point where they start to question their existence. In fact, she feels that her solitude is the only notion that might actually define her reality. When she is alone, she is left with her memories and often ponders who we are and what awaits us all in the end.

Reverend Ames can relate to Lila’s loneliness. When his first wife and child died, decades before he meets Lila, he devoted himself to his church and spent his days preaching, reading theology and philosophy, and listening to the radio. He developed a routine and believed that his days would be the same until he died. When he first sees Lila, though, after she has ducked into his church during his sermon for protection from the rain, he is instantly enamored with her. He tells her,

I was getting along with the damn loneliness well enough. I expected to continue with it the rest of my life. Then I saw you that morning. I saw your face.

Despite their age difference, Lila and John connect and develop feelings for each other. The two share similar experiences of loneliness—both as a state and as an important part of their identities—and some of the struggle of their marriage is in reconciling these two solitudes. In particular, Lila must finally learn to accept care and love from another person.

The Meaning of Human Life

Before Lila meets John, she begins to copy out parts from the Bible in order to improve her reading and writing skills. In the process of working through Ezekiel and Job, and through theological discussions she eventually has with John, Lila works to understand questions of human existence and eternity. She often asks her husband about his opinions on faith, predestination, and redemption, as she wishes to understand “why things happen the way they do.” She wants to know why people suffer and who will be redeemed of their sins in the end.

At one point, Lila thinks of Doll and the others she grew up around and wonders if they could possibly go to heaven. While Lila thinks that Doll, for example, is as deserving of heaven as the rest of the kind souls of the world, she also knows that Doll was not a Christian and had not been “saved.” She and John talk about the idea of redemption, and John admits that he has not had to think about hell as much as Lila has:

That night, lying against the warmth of him, she said, “Maybe you don’t have to think about hell because probably nobody you know is going to end up there.”
After a moment, he said, “I suppose there’s an element of truth in that.”
“Except me.”
“Lila,” he said, “I have to preach tomorrow. If you put more thoughts like this in my head, how am I supposed to get any sleep?” He...

(The entire section contains 1242 words.)

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