What is the theme of The Thorn Birds as conveyed through imagery, plot, and view?

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The Thorn Birds is a complex and deeply emotional novel. Several themes can be identified, but one theme stands out from the rest: the pursuit of something you want, with the knowledge that you cannot have it, is utterly futile; such striving can only lead to misery.

A theme can be understood as a message or a life lesson that can be gleaned from the events of the plot and the experiences of the characters in a novel. From the events and the characters in The Thorn Birds, a reader learns that inappropriate desires, like both Meggie's and Mary Carson's desires for Ralph, only lead to heartache and misery. Ralph, as a man of the cloth, is completely unattainable, but his faith and his commitment to God does not deter either Meggie nor Mary Carson in feeling the way they do about the charismatic and handsome priest; ultimately, both women suffer greatly for their desires.

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The overarching theme in The Thorn Birds is the conflict between love and ambition.

In the story, at least four characters sacrifice love on the altar of ambition. Father de Bricassart rejects Meggie and his love for her in order to realize his ambitions in the Church. Meanwhile, Luke O'Neill rejects an emotional connection with Meggie and his daughter in order to fulfill his ambitions in the sugarcane business.

Dane, Meggie's son, also chooses the Church; he disappoints the mother he adores in order to follow in the footsteps of his idol, Father de Bricassart. Ironically, he never discovers that the priest is his biological father. Meanwhile, Fiona (Meggie's mother) is rejected by her half-Maori lover, who chooses to fulfill his political ambitions at the expense of his love for Fiona. 

The personal choices of these characters demonstrate the destructive nature of ambition and how it results in tragedy. Both Fiona and Meggie are jilted by the men they love. Their revenge, however, is bittersweet. Fiona hides her son, Frank's true paternal heritage, for as long as she can, but she eventually loses him. In the book, she warns Meggie that her own deception will meet the same, bitter end: Meggie will lose Dane, just as Fiona lost Frank.

Fiona's prophecy comes true: during his vacation in Greece, Dane has a heart attack after saving two German women caught in an undertow. He dies, and Meggie is forced to reveal the truth about Dane's paternal heritage to Father de Bricassart. 

As for Luke O'Neill, he is never able to repair his relationship with Meggie. The couple remains estranged, and Justine (the couple's daughter) never develops a relationship with her father. So, the main theme of the novel is the conflict between love and ambition and the resultant tragedy from such a choice.

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The theme in The Thornbirds is complex.  The novel spans across three generations of a family, and deals primarily with the restrictions placed upon women in society.  The emphasis is women who have little freedom and are dependent on man.  In essence, women during the time period of the novel, 1915-1969, had little options without men.

In addition, the novel deals with forbidden love, as third generation Maggie falls in love and has an illegitimate child with a priest, Ralph de Bricassart.  It explores ambition, lies, and imperfection in a world of religious morality.  Maggie unhappily marries while still desiring Ralph, as Ralph does her.  But because of Ralph's ambition to further his career and the position he holds, they are torn apart left only with the burning desire of love for each other. 

So to summarize, the themes deal with forbidden love and the sacrifices made in the name of love, ambition and power, and the oppression of women to choose and be what they want.

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