Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1019
Noah Calhoun is eighty years old when the story opens. He has been living in a nursing home for three years. The home is not far from his plantation house in New Bern. Noah is somewhat crippled by arthritis, which makes it hard for him to move. However, each day, he reads to some of the other residents to soothe their nerves and to inspire them.His favorite readings are poetry, a habit that he has formed over the years. Noah’s love of poetry was one of the reasons that Allie fell in love with him.
In his youth, Noah was a strong man physically and softly gentle man emotionally. He was not concerned with making a name for himself in his pursuits. He would rather sit on his front porch and either read Walt Whitman or play his guitar. He made enough money to live but was not driven to build up his bank account. He enjoyed the little pleasures in life, like canoeing down the river that ran along his property line.
Noah fell in love with Allie when he was eighteen. Though he dated other women over the years, his love of Allie was never matched. He did not consciously admit it, but he longed for her all the years she was not in his life. When Allie suddenly reappeared, he realized how much he had missed her. His love exploded inside of him, and he asked Allie to stay with him, even though she confessed that she was about to marry another man.
When the story returns to the present, in which Noah is an eighty-year-old man, readers learn how happy Noah once was living with Allie. Noah and Allie were about to celebrate their forty-ninth wedding anniversary.They were the parents of five children and several grandchildren. They had lived their lives together in the plantation house, where their love had been born. Noah had supported Allie’s dreams of becoming an artist. In his room at the nursing home were two of her paintings. He also kept photographs and letters that Allie had written to him down the years. When he missed her, he pulled these items out and stared at them, trying to quell his sadness. Allie’s not remembering who he was pained Noah significantly. When he looked at her, he could see that in her eyes, he was a stranger. In the more recent years, Noah shared only fleeting moments when Allie called him by name, remembering who he was.
Allison Nelson, whom Noah called Allie, was fifteen years old when she first met Noah. She fell in love with Noah’s gentle nature, his poetic dreams, and his awareness and love of the natural world around him.Allie was a budding artist at the time, but she was surrounded by people who thought money was the ultimate proof of a successful life. Noah’s spirit matched Allie’s better. But she knew him for just a couple of months. Then her family returned home, and for the next fourteen years, Allie heard nothing from Noah. She received art training in college, but her parents discouraged her from following this as a career. Instead, she became involved in philanthropic projects. She met Lon Hammond, who came from a very respectable family. Lon’s father made a fortune in cotton. His influence was very impressive, which made Lon a good catch. Allie’s parents were quite enthralled with her choice. And so Allie and Lon became engaged.
Allie thought Lon was a good man. He treated her fairly and gently. But Lon’s job always seemed to come first. He worked long hours and quickly became a very successful lawyer. Allie’s love for him was true, but it only went so far, not as deep as her memories of that summer love she shared with Noah so many years ago.
So when Allie saw the newspaper article about Noah’s work on the old plantation, her emotions for Noah were roused. She was not sure why she had to see him, but she followed her instincts and travelled to New Bern, telling Lon that she wanted to go shopping. Even after making passionate love with Noah during their reunion, Allie felt that she should go back to Lon. She knew what an embarrassment it would be for him if she did not. But when she faced Lon, she knew she loved Noah more.And so she was strong enough to tell Lon the truth. She love him but not as deeply as she loved Noah.
Allie had a good life with Noah and never regretted making that choice.Then, in her seventies, she started noticing that she was having trouble remembering simple things. After her disease was diagnosed, she wrote several letters to her children and to Noah, apologizing and asking their forgiveness for the moments yet to come in the near future when she might no longer remember them.
Lon Hammond is engaged to marry Allie. He is a successful lawyer who comes from a very wealthy and influential family in Raleigh. His father made his money in cotton. Lon loves Allie, but his priorities put his job first. He becomes suspicious of Allie’s trip to New Bern when he calls her hotel several times and cannot reach her. He remembers hearing something said several years ago about an old boyfriend who lives in New Bern and decides to go check out what is happening. He and Allie meet in the lobby of the hotel, and Allie breaks off the engagement.
Anne Nelson is Allie’s mother. Anne retrieved the letters that Noah sent to Allie and did not tell her daughter about them. However, she did save the letters, and when she drives to New Bern to warn Allie that Lon is looking for her, she confesses what she has done and gives the letters to Allie to read. Though Anne was hoping that Allie’s feelings for Noah would eventually fade away, she realizes, in the end, how powerful Allie’s love for Noah is.