Themes

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Last Updated on May 11, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 213

A major thrust of this novel is that even in the face of incredible adversity, humans work together to make what they can of their situations, however impossible those situations may seem. By focusing on the children's ward in a hospital that continually confronts most of the social predicaments and...

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A major thrust of this novel is that even in the face of incredible adversity, humans work together to make what they can of their situations, however impossible those situations may seem. By focusing on the children's ward in a hospital that continually confronts most of the social predicaments and upheavals that afflict contemporary society, Powers reveals in vivid, realistic terms an ugly underbelly of modern civilization whose existence most people would prefer to overlook.

Powers helps readers understand this seeming unconcern by demonstrating that, ironically, it is Richard Kraft's sensitivity that fuels his seeming insensitivity: Richard Kraft is afraid to expose himself emotionally to a situation that, as both a human and a physician, he deplores yet can usually deal with only palliatively. He wants to cure his patients, to send them home whole, but he can not. A theme of powerlessness pervades the novel but this powerlessness is shown as merely an impediment to be overcome, not a condition that spells defeat.

A theme of impending death hovers over the children's ward, but as the novel progresses, a theme of reconciliation, based upon genuine human caring, emerges. This is a theme that many readers, shocked by the gruesome situations the novel depicts, fail to glean on first reading Operation Wandering Soul.

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