The Notebook opens with an unnamed narrator asking "Who am I?" Readers realize that this narrator is also an older person because 30 years ago the narrator's daughter knitted the sweater that is being worn; soon after, readers learn that this nameless narrator is 80 years old. The narrator provides two choices for the reader, claiming that this narrative is either a love story or a tragedy, depending on whether you are a romantic or a cynic, and yet, the narrator considers it a little bit of both.
Without revealing specifics, the narrator states that the life path that the narrator has chosen to follow was indeed a choice, and the major difficulties, or problems, began three years ago. The mention of both a nurse and crying suggest a nursing home or some other extended care facility, and when the narrator quotes a nurse, the narrator's gender is finally revealed — he is a male.
He walks down the hall into a room and chats with the two nurses who are in the room. Then he settles in to his usual chair, knowing that the crying will soon stop. The woman he is visiting does not know who the narrator is. The narrator mentions both God and the power of prayer. And then he starts to read from a notebook, in hopes that the miracle will again prevail.
The title of the opening chapter establishes the motif of miracles. Although readers are not aware of which specific miracle the title refers, a safe assumption is that it has something to do with the person to whom the narrator is reading from the notebook — presumably because this notebook is the one mentioned in the title and has some important significance. Throughout The Notebook, a number of different miracles occur, and all of them involve either one or both of the two main characters: Noah and/or Allie.
The title of the chapter is followed by two questions. The opening question "Who am I?" establishes the importance of gaining an understanding of self. This begins the development of one of the most important thematic topics of the novel, and this quest for self-understanding also serves as an important part of the development of the main characters.
This understanding of self is also explored throughout Walt Whitman's collection of poetry, Leaves of Grass, which serves as an important intertext for The Notebook. The second question asks "How . . . will this story end?" The question specifically refers to the narrator's story but also symbolizes the story of everyone's life and the uncertainty that people face during their existence.
The narrator's uncertainty in regards to his future introduces another thematic topic — that is, the relationship between fate and free will. Oftentimes, people view these two as contrasting, mutually exclusive ideas, yet The Notebook seems to suggest that people exercise free will even as they move toward their fate. People commit actions, and these actions have consequences. What role, if any, fate has in relation to these actions and consequences is explored throughout the remainder of the novel.
The conversational tone established by the narrator reveals the personal nature of the narrative and serves to pull in the reader by creating a sense of intimacy. This informal tone enables readers to connect with the narrator, becoming emotionally invested in the story. The informal tone and easy-to-read narrative are deceptive because the ideas and characters in The Notebook are not as simplistic. Sparks' style enables him to both reach and connect with a wide audience.
The narrator repeats the word "common," referring both to himself as a man and his thoughts. This word usually has a neutral if not negative connotation; however, in this chapter, the word occurs immediately after the narrator compares his relationship to a blue-chip stock, a stock whose success is virtually guaranteed over time. The word "common" is also an investment term (blue chip stocks are actually well-regarded shares of common stock).
Therefore, Sparks not only continues his metaphor, he develops the character of the narrator, demonstrating a degree of modesty as well as insight. The narrator is one who "loved another with all my heart and soul" and for him "that has always been enough." Clearly, love is not common at all. And The Notebook explores the nature of an uncommon love. At this time, the narrator does not say all of this, yet readers are able to infer this information. The Notebook is an exploration of enduring, committed love.
By the narrator's own admission, his story is both a love story and a tragedy — in fact, it is better to identify it as a tragic love story, one along the lines of Romeo and Juliet. And although similarities exist, the parallels are neither perfect nor identical. Yet, texts do not have to be identical to influence one another.
Another important repetition is the narrator's use of the word path. Not only does it emphasize the walk of life that everyone takes, it establishes the mood, or atmosphere, of the text. A sense of acceptance and strong sense of faith permeate the opening pages of The Notebook and continue throughout the novel.
A number of important images take place in this opening chapter. The narrator compares himself to an "old party balloon." This image works on two levels, indicating both the physical as well as the emotional and spiritual well being of the narrator. He is currently only a shell of his former self. The chair that has "come to be shaped like me" indicates the amount of time that he has spent sitting in the chair, presumably reading The Notebook, the one that has been read "a hundred times." This detail appears to be a statement of fact and not of hyperbole. Another indication of the amount of time that he has spent here is the familiarity the narrator has with the nurses.
The attitude of narrator reveals an important thematic statement of The Notebook. The narrator states, "A person can get used to anything, if given enough time." On the surface, this sentence could have both positive and negative connotations; however, based on the context of the chapter, this indication is definitely a positive one. The narrator is a character who is clearly making the best of a bad situation. He seems to have accepted the conditions of his life.
Just as the nurses "say nothing directly to me," the narrator is not saying many things directly to the readers. The indirection is a stylistic technique used by Nicholas Sparks to build suspense. One of the most important things that is not stated directly but is easily inferred is the fact that the patient to whom the narrator is reading is suffering from Alzheimer's. But the narrator has already revealed himself to be a man of faith and then states that he believes "anything is possible" and that "science is not the total answer," reinforcing the idea of fate, free will, and miracles. The repetition of the word miracle echoes the title of the chapter while simultaneously emphasizing its importance. Miracle as a word also has religious connotations, another important motif used to develop both character and theme.
The single sentence used to end the chapter focuses readers on the hope that the narrator has, connecting readers to the desire he has for yet another miracle associated with the notebook.
This first chapter has two primary purposes: to establish the frame narrative and to build both suspense and mystery. This chapter introduces an 80-year-old narrator whose story is in the present. This narrative surrounds the flashback story that is told in subsequent chapters. Suspense and mystery is created through a variety of means — the nameless narrator (who is he?), the unknown person to whom he is reading, the mentioning (without identifying) of a problem, and the notebook itself. Clearly, this introductory chapter raises more questions than it answers.
Readers are not immediately aware of what is thematically and symbolically significant and cannot possibly fully understand and appreciate their inclusion in the first chapter until rereading the chapter after completing the entire novel.
blue-chip stock stocks of high-quality, financially-sound corporations; the term suggests a safe investment
listless indifferent, spiritless
Can you describe how the idea for The Notebook came to you?
The novel was inspired by my wife's grandparents. In many ways, Noah and Allie's story paralleled the story of her grandparents: They'd met as teenagers, moved away from each other only to reunite years later on the verge of her wedding to another man. They lived a long and happy life together until one of them developed dementia. Theirs was both a wonderful and tragic story, and most importantly, it was a story that I thought I could write. The relatively simple story embraced two major characters and two major settings, and yet the story struck me as having infinite possibilities from the very beginning. Because I had such confidence in the story, I devoted most of my writing time to the literary style, in order to make Noah's voice and tone as memorable as possible.