The View from Saturday

by E. L. Konigsburg

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Themes and Characters

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The unifying theme of The View from Saturday is the journey. Each of the five central characters makes a journey of the spirit, and the structure of the novel is held together by journeys. The most obvious journey is the collective one they take to the state championship. This journey forms the backbone of the novel, holding the disparate narrative strands together by providing a consistent background from beginning to end. It is also an important part of Mrs. Olinski's journey to the discovery of kindness in others.

The other journeys are individual and metaphorical. Mr. Singh and his son Julian regard life as if they are travelers on cruise ships who come together, share portions of their journeys, and then part to follow their own journey to its individual end. Noah Gershom's journey becomes entangled at different times with the journey to happiness of Margaret Draper and Izzy Diamondstein and then also with the journeys of the other Souls. At first unknown to him, his participation in the wedding of Margaret Draper and Izzy Diamondstein links his journey to that of Nadia Diamondstein, who is unhappy about the marriage, and whose father was supposed to be best man before Noah had to stand in for him.

One of the hallmarks of good characterization is that the characters grow during the narrative, and The View from Saturday has such growth in abundance. The novel is not a coming-of-age story though; instead, its main characters grow the way characters are supposed to grow in fiction for adults—they learn about themselves, especially their motivations and their capacity to do good, and they develop greater understanding of their environment and the people around them.

Those looking for a single protagonist of The View from Saturday may become frustrated in their search. Although Mrs. Olinski's journey helps bind the narrative together, the experiences of Noah, Nadia, Ethan, and Julian also help unite the novel, and their self-discoveries are as important as her own. Perhaps fittingly for a novel about intertwined journeys and the discovery of kindness in others, there are multiple protagonists, with five characters taking center stage individually during the novel and then taking center stage collectively by its end. Having multiple protagonists allows Konigsburg to look at her unifying theme of the journey from different angles, showing how the journey to discovering kindness not only in others but in oneself can be achieved in both extraordinary and ordinary ways. Nadia's way—traveling from her paper on turtles, to helping turtles survive, to realizing that her involvement with the turtles has been a process of spiritual growth—is extraordinary. Her understanding of nature's design for the life cycle of sea turtles has led her to a greater understanding of her father and of her awkward situation in life, shuttling between parents. This extraordinary journey is beautiful in its presentation, offering an elegant analogy that allows Nadia's inner life to be explored in depth.

Beautiful though the turtle journey is, more powerful may be Ethan's ordinary journey on a bus. As Mr. Singh points out, Ethan's journey took longer than those of Nadia and Noah, but it was the shortest trip by distance. He begins his journey by taking a double-seat on the school bus, hoping to keep the whole thing to himself. He is antisocial, trying to keep other students from bothering him, and his journey seems ready to be stifled by his having erected a wall between himself and other young people; when Julian tries to talk with him he avoids conversation and human contact. Yet, Ethan is drawn to Julian even while trying...

(This entire section contains 846 words.)

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to avoid him because he and Julian are both on important journeys. It is their journeying that eventually unites The Souls, each youngster recognizing in the others people on journeys of the heart. Ethan's breakthrough to helping Julian is important because it reveals how the discovery of kindness works. Julian, the lifetime traveler, is friendly and good to Ethan, and Ethan's discovery of the warming worth of offered kindness helps him find and unlock the kindness in himself, leading to his effort to protect Julian from bullies. This growth in Ethan's heart is made more powerful by taking place on a journey attending school in an ordinary life and by the forthright action by which his newfound kindness is expressed. The ordinariness of the background of his growth reveals to young readers the knowledge that learning to understand the inner lives of others and comprehending the graces of kindness received and kindness given does not require extraordinary lives in extraordinary circumstances—anyone can do it in a normal life. The action Ethan takes to save Julian humiliation illustrates the crucial moral point that the key to personal growth is not being passive. Individuals can discover through taking action the kindness within themselves and, in so doing, inspire those around them to actions that will both benefit others and show them the latent good that they have in themselves. This is the process whereby right thoughts lead to the ultimate good of right deeds.


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