Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 449

Part of the novel’s theme is revealed in the title: Some women and men are destined to serve. Anne Cavidge has already done her time and attempts to return to the world of ordinary, pleasurable life, the world of the consumer, and the lover. The Count, seeing his Polish heritage...

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Part of the novel’s theme is revealed in the title: Some women and men are destined to serve. Anne Cavidge has already done her time and attempts to return to the world of ordinary, pleasurable life, the world of the consumer, and the lover. The Count, seeing his Polish heritage as one long battle and himself as a man of honor in the service of his lady Gertrude, is also ready, on the death of Guy, to doff his uniform for the casual wear of the lover. Yet such change for both must be done honorably, and in acting each other into the ground, they both miss their chance. In Anne’s case, it was probably not meant to be anyway; her encounter with Jesus suggests that the tie to spiritual service is for her impossible to deny. The Count might have adapted, but there is something fitting about his new role as acknowledged, well-loved favorite. In how they look, how they dress, how they relate to others, in what they do, they are both more honorable and more austere than real life. They are true servers.

Gertrude, in her adoring service to Guy, may be seen as something of a server, and she knows that she has a duty to wait out her period of mourning for a good man, but when it comes to the struggle between duty and desire, she chooses the latter. Tim has also served, if ineptly, in his support of poor Daisy. His problem is his belief in his unworthiness, his certainty that he is not worthy of Gertrude. He proves otherwise in instinctively diving after life in the canal that he fears, and coming out alive and glad of it. It is fitting that he is tested and purified in a natural element. Guy held Gertrude in the world of the intellect; Tim is at one with nature. He is not much of a thinker, but he sees (and teaches Gertrude to look at things), he feels, he has an uncomplicated instinct for the beauty of nature (the time of the leaves), and his respect for the Great Stone Face and for the pool at its base is an indication of his capacity for deep, intuitive relationships, which he brings into his love for Gertrude and which, in a lesser way, was in his love and care for Daisy. Gertrude’s name may remind one of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and Tim’s relation to Guy was one of son to father. What may appear at first to be a trivial version of incest ultimately proves to be the legitimate succession of one good man, now dead, by another, splendidly alive.

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Characters