Summary and Analysis
Winter for Two
The narrative returns to the original, outer frame story, and the unnamed narrator closes the notebook. The narrator admits that he is going to reveal some of his secrets. First of all, he reveals that he has been married for almost 49 years, and although he is not supposed to see his wife at night, he sometimes breaks this rule.
The narrator knows that the woman he is reading to is dying, though she does not. As the narrator talks about his experiences, he quotes from a poem. Then he talks about visiting and reading to other residents.
After finishing reading from the notebook, he takes his wife's hand; she asks if he wrote the story and he admits he did. She asks which one did she marry, and he replies that she will know by the end of the day. He is convinced this day is going to be a good day. His wife does not know who he is, and thus she asks him, "Who are you?"
This last chapter is the longest chapter of the novel. This length emphasizes the importance of the events in this chapter. And although the chapter begins with "the story ends there," clearly it does not.
The first untitled poem excerpt is from John Clare's "First Love." The speaker of this poem begins by being in a state of physical shock and emotional distress and ends with a desire for self-knowledge about a vision of his beloved. And a poem that is often an intertext with "First Love" is Byron's "She Walks in Beauty." Clearly, the speakers in both of these poems represent Noah, and the two women symbolize Allie. Allie was Noah's "first love," and they both are currently in a state of physical and emotional distress. And Noah longs to have his miracle good days when he can see his beloved once again. "She Walks in Beauty" is about a woman's beauty, both physical and spiritual, and that is the essence of the beauty that Noah sees and adores in Allie.
The second excerpt is from Walt Whitman's "To a Common Prostitute." Initially, this passage may seem like an odd choice to include in a novel about love relationships, but reading the poem reveals two important components: the seemingly obvious interpretation of the poem, the assertion that "prostitutes are people, too" is a request to respect all life — whether it is the life of a prostitute or the life of a person suffering from Alzheimer's. Yet another level equates the act of prostitution to the act of writing poetry. If Allie is the symbolic prostitute and Noah is the poet, then their physical union is itself a poetical expression. And the dedication and commitment that Noah is demonstrating to and for Allie by reading to her daily is a type of poetry in motion, a gesture that does a lot of good for both partners.
The Whitman excerpt is followed by Noah's admission that he reads in order to "know who I am." This is a clear indication that an analysis of the poems will aid in an understanding of Noah and Allie. He is a poet. A man in search of himself. A man longing to see his one true love again (in her moments of mental clarity). And a man who is willing to wait patiently and sacrifice selflessly for the woman he loves.
An analysis of the next quoted poem makes Noah's character abundantly clear. Although it is not identified by name or by poet, Walt Whitman's "The Sleepers," another selection from Leaves of Grass, is quoted. And not only does it provide insight into the nature of Noah and Allie's relationship, it foreshadows the ending of The Notebook.
The dominant symbolism of "The Sleepers" is night, which is a rather common symbol for death; sleep implies death and, at the same time, the release of the soul through death. The poet identifies himself as merging with other beings and multitudes of beings and thus establishes a spiritual and psychological kinship with them. The poet's vision or dream motif is the core of the structure and the apparent lack of organization reflects the quality of the dream itself.
Thus the poem's structure, theme, and symbolism are brought into a cohesive and meaningful pattern, just as Sparks achieves in The Notebook. Throughout "The Sleepers" men and women become beautiful in sleep. Beauty, associated with darkness, attains a spiritual quality which is the essential element in the poet's mystical experience. The structure, themes, and symbolism of The Notebook all address a need and desire for beautiful, mystical, love experiences.
It is extremely significant that Noah lies to Allie and says his name is Duke and hers is Hannah. Many people believe that perception is reality. And Noah needs Allie to be as calm as possible. He knows that reading to her sometimes — not often but sometimes — enables her to remember who she is, who he is, and remember their life together. But those times are few and far between. And because Noah is not initially certain whether she is going to have a good day, a miracle, he plays the part of a man who loves and cares for her, even if he cannot tell her his real name. This illustrates an interesting concept — that actions are neither right nor wrong — they merely are, and it is the context in which an action takes place determines the appropriateness or inappropriateness of it. Noah's lie to Allie is a lie told out of love and respect and thus cannot be considered wrong.
The next poem that is mentioned by author but not by title is "Continuities" by Walt Whitman. This poem, also included in Whitman's Leaves of Grass, seems to explicitly address Allie's Alzheimer's, especially the line "appearance must not foil, nor shifted sphere confuse thy brain." Noah simultaneously reassures Allies, readers, and himself that the little white lie he is telling is not problematic, for the sense of resurrection and rebirth mentioned in the poem symbolize the occasional good days that Allie has. And those few good days are enough to survive the difficult other days.
The next poem that Noah recites to Allie is credited solely to a "wise poet," and that poet is non-other than Nicholas Sparks, illustrating that he has success as a poet as well as a novelist. In fact, the final three poems cited in The Notebook are actually written by Sparks himself. And it is this combination of roles that is responsible Noah's next insightful observation. Noah compares his relationship with Allie to dusk, the time of day when day becomes night. He states that "there cannot be one without the other, yet they cannot exist at the same time . . . always together, forever apart." This is the struggle Noah has reading daily to Allie, not knowing if that day will be a miracle day or not. Noah recounts that he first wrote this to Allie in the last letter he wrote to her, and she was reading it at twilight. That same later reveals how the love that Noah and Allie shared together lead to being incredible parents to their children, as Noah revealed to his adult children (in addition to readers) the story of Allie's goodbye to Lon and the difficulty she and he both had saying goodbye to one another. Noah's statement, "I am who I am because of you," takes into account their first summer, their years apart, as well as their years together.
It is rather coy that Noah constantly mentions and recites lines of poetry. Many critics see these references as indirect critiques of Lon's question regarding Allie's painting, asking her what it was supposed to be, when it was an abstract painting whose purpose was to elicit thought. The lines of quoted poetry fit specifically to the plot of The Notebook at the time they are being used. However, they provide a deeper understanding of character and thematic development when readers understand the original source material.
Two important statements in this chapter serve as direct statements of theme for The Notebook. The first is when Noah says that "life is simply a collection of little lives, each lived one day at a time. That each day should be spent finding beauty in flowers and poetry and talking to animals." The second is "a day spent with dreaming and sunsets and refreshing breezes cannot be bettered" for life exists "for falling in love." The use of polysyndeton (the deliberate use of unnecessary conjunctions) slows down the rhythm of the sentence in order to emphasize the little things in daily life that are actually important in living a meaningful life. The syntax of the sentence parallels the message of the statement — to slow down, live one day at a time while making the most out of that day. Enjoy nature. Appreciate one another. Fall in love. These commands are seemingly simple but extremely difficult to follow.
Another important thematic statement from this chapter is "Romance and passion are possible at any age." This speaks to the importance of maintaining relationships, especially as we age. Young adults do not have a monopoly on romance. Successful love relationships are the result of hard work, dedication, and commitment. Yet, we are never too old to stop romancing and wooing our loved ones, for everyone wants to feel special and needs to feel special. Loving another is more important than being loved.
The narrative of The Notebook then takes the reader through the exact experience that Noah has — just as readers are enjoying the reunion between Allie and Noah, for her mind and memories have returned, and Allie and Noah experience a day of being in love with one another, and it is a reunion for readers, too. Readers already have experienced the beautiful love relationship once and enjoy being a part of another miracle. Yet, as quickly as Noah and Allie are reunited, it is taken away — from them and from the readers. Instead of an ideal reunion, readers experience the image of two people who need consoling — "A woman shaking in fear from demons in her own mind, and the old man who loves her more deeply than life itself, crying softly in the corner." This powerful scene evokes empathy for Noah in all readers, as we feel the anguish he feels, and we understand why Noah feels so alone.
Not only does Noah spend the rest of the day alone in his room, but also he introduces the reader to another character who is alone — Dr. Barnwell. The doctor's desire to be completely devoted to career and family is situation that parallels Noah's, and Noah realizes this as he tells Dr. Barnwell that both of them are alone. Dr. Barnwell represents all people — like Lon — who put their career or something else ahead of the people they love. Ironically, it is Dr. Barnwell who tells Noah that "no one is alone,"for he does not realize the contradiction that he himself is living, and although Noah attempts to explain the harsh reality to him, Noah is unable to get through to the doctor.
After the miracle day, Noah is begrudgingly optimistic, realizing that the four hours he had with Allie were indeed a miracle, a gift from God, and he slowly returns to his typical routine. He mentions that he finds a "Strange comfort in the predictability of my life." This indicates the importance of regularity and continuity.
One of the predictable things in Noah's life is the creek that he can see outside the window of his room. It regularly rises and falls with the rain. The constant ebbing and flowing of the waters symbolize Noah's life, and Noah articulates this.
After Noah's stroke, readers are able to read a letter from Allie to Noah. In it, readers find out that after Allie left to see Lon, when she returned, Noah welcomed her back with a smile and an offer of a cup of coffee. And he never brought up the incident again. Allie's letter to Noah is a love letter that shows remarkable insight about the progression of her disease. It is incredibly perceptive and loving to share the knowledge that you will be losing the memory of the one you love the most and preparing him for that day. Allie is being proactive, recognizing her own loss of recognition of Noah as well as the having the insight to say "I love you" and explain to him that she does love him, even if she can't say it. Allie knows that Noah will keep the letter to reread on especially difficult days, which, of course, is exactly what he is doing.
The writing in Allie's letter is pure poetry, just like the poetry that Noah puts under Allie's pillow. And the poetry this time is Nicholas Sparks' own writing — again not only demonstrating his artistry but also demonstrating the love Sparks has for his own wife. Of course, all the letters that Noah writes to Allie and that Allie writes to him are Sparks' own writings, too, which further illustrates the deep connection and love relationship he has with Cathy.
By now, readers realize that the miracles mentioned in the opening chapter of The Notebook refer to the miracle of a long-lasting, committed love relationship as well as the miracle of recognition. The final reference to heaven serves as a metaphor on a variety of levels — it is the state of Noah's mind as he is in the arms of his beloved wife; it is a metaphor for sexual ecstasy; and it is a metaphor for both death and the reward for the two who die in each other's arms.
Note: The ambiguous nature of the ending of The Notebook is not nearly so ambiguous if readers take Sparks' sequel The Wedding into consideration. Noah, a character in this novel, is alive and well and believes that Allie has been reincarnated as a swan.
Everglades a swampy yet partially forested region in southern Florida
Vanna's a reference to Vanna White, the hostess for the TV game show Wheel of Fortune
Eliot T.S. Eliot. Famous British poet of the modern era
John Wayne famous American actor, star of westerns, known as "Duke"
Alzheimer's a progressive form of dementia that begins with gradual memory loss and eventually leads to complete helplessness
Gnomes fabled race of dwarflike creatures
Mozart Amadeus Mozart, famous and prolific Austrian composer
The structure of The Notebook is unique: It begins and ends in the present day, spends the majority of the story in 1946, and flashes back to 1932 and the years in between. Why did you decide to tell it this way, instead of chronologically?
Pacing, structure, chronology and timelines are tools; if effectively used by an author, they aid in generating authentic emotional power. While the analogy might not be perfect, try to think of those tools as musical notes. It's possible to arrange those notes in an obvious pattern (low pitch to high pitch) for example. The resulting tones might even be lovely. Yet, by varying the pattern, the music might resonate more deeply. The same rules apply in writing.
In this case, I employed structure and chronology to move the reader through the story in such a way as to allow the reader to identify strongly with Noah, especially toward the end. The love Noah felt for Allie felt real to the reader, and consequently, so did Noah's heartbreak.
Before he answers, the narrative flashes back, explaining that they have lived here for three years. The reader learns that the narrator has arthritis, which prevents him from holding his wife's hands with their fingers interlocked, and this is sad for him.
Returning to the present, readers now know for almost certainty that the narrator is Noah, for he refers to his daddy, yet he tells his wife that his name is Duke, and he tells her that her name is Hannah. Because of previous slips of the tongue, Noah has hurt Allie during their time here, and Noah is determined not to do that again, and thus, he lies.
Again Noah quotes from another unidentified poem, although he does identify the poet as Whitman. After this, Noah provides an overview of his married life with Allie, mentioning that she became a famous artist. In the present, Noah now spends his time wooing Allie, slowly and gently.
He then quotes a line from Sir Charles Sedley. After that, he talks about Allie's last year before moving to the extended care facility, after she was diagnosed with the beginning stages of Alzheimer's. Noah shares some of the letters Allie wrote to him and that he wrote to her.
In Noah's final letter, he recounts telling their children about the decision Allie had to make and that is how readers find out about her decision to stay with the one man she has always loved.
Allie's fiancé is a good man, who loves her, earns a fine living, and is considered a good catch in her circle. Yet with Noah, Allie shares an indescribable passion. Do you believe readers respond to this novel because of that passion, because of the difficult choice between financial security and social acceptance on the one hand and passionate love on the other?
Of course. In life, we have to make choices, and often the hardest are those that ask us to choose between what our heart wants and what the mind thinks is best. It's universal and inevitable, which is why the choice rings so true. For the reader, the beauty of her final decision lies in the fact that Allie's passionate choice ended up being the right choice.
In Noah's final letter to Allie, he writes, "I am who I am because of you."
Noah compares the progression of Allie's Alzheimer's to other patients who are at the home; he admits that mornings are extremely difficult for her, and she cries inconsolably; Allie also sees gnomes.
Some days, after Noah reads to her, Allie's condition improves, and she wants to remember the day that he spends with her. On her good days, they eat dinner together in Allie's room. This time, at the window, Allie concludes that the woman in the story chooses Noah. She then remembers and calls him Noah. And then she gets frightened of losing this memory and these feelings, but Noah responds, "What we have is forever."
But the moment is ruined when Allie sees the gnomes.
The nurses come in response to Noah's hitting the button, and eight days after Noah's good day with Allie, he suffers a stroke. Noah spends some days in and out of consciousness and partially recovers, but he has right side paralysis. After Noah is released from the hospital, he returns to the home, and in an evening of loneliness he reads the last letter Allie wrote to him. She mentions her return after breaking her engagement to Lon; through her letter, readers find out that Allie is the one who commanded Noah to write their story down and read it to her.
After reading the letter, Noah decides to go to Allie's room, even though it is against the rules.
For Noah, having truly loved is the hallmark of his life; it is what gives his life meaning. Do you believe that everyone, no matter what else they may achieve, yearns to experience this sort of love?
The desire to be loved unconditionally is nearly universal and at first glance, that seems to be the subject of the novel. The true theme, however, is just the opposite. The Notebook (as told from Noah's perspective) actually explores the beauty and power of loving, as opposed to being loved. Framing the story in this way suggests that love is a gift, one that not only benefits the one who's loved, but also the one who loves as well.
Nurse Janice commands him not to go to Allie's room, even though it is their 49th wedding anniversary, but she then tells him that she needs to fill her coffee. Noah feels entirely alone in the world until he notices that her coffee cup is full, so he slowly enters Allie's room. He has a note to place under her pillow. After approaching Allie, Noah kisses her on the mouth, and she mentions his name and begins to unbutton his shirt. Noah claims they both are beginning "to slip toward heaven" as the novel closes.