Christian Themes

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Two prominent themes are guilt and atonement. Because he articulated his distrust of his sister-in-law Lucy, Ian Bedloe believes he is directly responsible for the death (possible suicide) of his brother, Danny, and the subsequent death of Lucy; however, his parents insist that both deaths are tragic accidents. While no one else blames Ian, there is no one to absolve him of his guilt. The Reverend Emmett’s emphasis on concrete reparations appears to suggest a path toward atonement, and his fellow church members come to regard him as saintly, but Ian remains focused on the last few words he exchanged with Danny, even after he has spent years vainly seeking atonement. Only when Rita forces him to discard the doubts and insecurity associated with his past does Ian finally manage to heed the other part of the Reverend Emmett’s advice: to forgive himself for his actions and likewise to forgive Danny and Lucy for their reactions.

Although Ian’s church, the Church of the Second Chance, does not recognize traditional communion services, the theme of communion is important throughout the novel. For example, the Bedloes create a community on Waverly Street because their holiday meals always include neighbors, including Mrs. Jordan and the Middle Eastern graduate students. At these meals, Bee serves a variety of everyone’s favorite hors d’oeuvres rather than a traditional dinner. Meals play an important role throughout the novel. A significant incident involves the various family members’ sharing their dreams/nightmares at breakfast on Claudia’s thirty-eighth birthday. Ian says nothing, but Claudia’s comment that nothing dramatic has ever happened to her contrasts with his inner conflict. Another key symbolic episode occurs at the church’s Christian Fellowship Picnic, where Doug Bedloe starts to accept Ian’s vocation and his connection with the church as Ian is able to repair damage to a valuable wooden table belonging to the wealthy relative of a church member. Later, Ian begins to regard the Reverend Emmett as an equal in the episode in which he teaches Emmett to make onion dip and the two of them make chips and dip their entire evening meal. The restoration of the Bedloe family is signaled, however, after the marriage of Ian and Rita, when Rita resumes Bee’s custom of serving hors d’oeuvres at the family’s holiday dinners.


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The myth of the perfect family is once again exposed in this novel. On the first page, the Bedloes are described as the "ideal, apple-pie household" and their philosophy of life is "Don't worry. Everything will turn out fine," But Danny kills himself; Lucy dies; they are stuck with three children unrelated to them; and Ian takes religion seriously, dropping out of college to take care of the children. The Bedloes are not the perfect family after all, but they have a bedrock closeness and love that keeps them together and helps them overcome their trials. When the children are planning what to do in the event of a nuclear attack, they decide to commandeer a grocery store just for their immediate family. They make a point of including Ian, who is, in fact, not related to them at all, because he is the one that holds them together. The novel reveals that love in a family is more important than the apple-pie image or blood ties.

Sin, atonement, and redemption are new themes for Anne Tyler, particularly as depicted in specifically religious terms. Angry at Lucy for making him late for an important date with his girlfriend. Cicely, Ian blurts out what he thinks is the truth,...

(This entire section contains 329 words.)

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asking Danny how long Lucy can fool him about the baby's being his and about her afternoon outings. When Danny drives into a wall, killing himself, Ian must face up to his responsibility in the death. He flounders until he discovers the Church of the Second Chance, where Reverend Emmett tells him he must do more than say he is sorry. He must make amends by rearing the children, but this act does not free him from his guilt. He must be redeemed by forgiving Danny and Lucy. At one point Ian thinks he has wasted his youth, and thus lost his life in his years of surrogate parenting. In fact, he has found life in his relationship with the children.