Summary and Analysis
The narrative flashes back to October 1946 and a character named Noah Calhoun. Noah enjoys thinking about nothing in particular in the evenings after a hard day at work repairing the house he purchased in New Bern, North Carolina. The house was originally built in 1772, and Noah has spent the past eleven months fixing it up.
Both his guitar and his memories of his father occupy Noah's time. Noah does not currently have a job, but he is not particularly concerned with finding one because he still has a few months worth of savings left. Noah has a hound dog, Clem — short for Clementine — and at 31 years old, he is beginning to feel lonely. He has not dated since he returned to New Bern.
Memories of his father include the mention of "God's music," a reference to the sounds of nature, the sounds that enabled Noah to help keep his sanity during the chaos and confusion during the time he spent fighting in a war. After drinking his tea, Noah gets his copy of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, and quotes an entire poem.
The opening sentence of the second chapter provides the setting of the inner-story of the frame narrative. Although it is not stated directly, readers have a sense that this story is the one that is recorded in the pages of the notebook.
The narrative point of view shifts from a first person to a third person perspective. An omniscient narrator begins telling the love story of Noah and Allie. This choice of narrator is significant, for it enables readers to know what is happening in the minds of both main characters.
At the beginning, the text does not directly state that Noah's father is dead, nor does it state that Noah served in the war, though astute readers will infer both of these things. These examples illustrate Sparks' style of narrative being used to support the development of both character and theme.
Noah's attitude, as stated in this chapter, is significant: "It would work out for him . . . it always did." The attitude is particularly revealing in regards to Noah's character development because it serves as a sign of both faith and fate — two topics that have already been established in The Notebook and serve to foreshadow future revelations.
Noah's return to what is probably his home town as well as his lack of dating since his return further develop his character. These two details demonstrate that Noah has a sense of roots and family and that he is holding on to something extremely personal and important. When the narrator tells us that Noah contemplates if he were "destined to be alone," this again refers to the idea of fate. Noah's fond remembrance of the simple sounds of the country develops Noah's character while simultaneously developing the thematic topic about what is indeed important in life.
One of the most important symbols in the novel — the Walt Whitman collection of poems called Leaves of Grass — is introduced in this chapter. The old book with a torn cover reveals the importance of the book for Noah. Although knowledge of this poetry collection is not essential to an understanding of The Notebook, it does serve as an important allusion. Readers familiar with Whitman's seminal text and its importance to the development of Whitman as an artist will gain significant insight into Noah's character.
The poem to which Noah refers is "A Clear Midnight," a poem that illustrates both Whitman's and Noah's tender side. The poem moves from the individual to the greater world, moving outward like a prayer. This poem is one long sentence, expressing the paradox of compression and expansion all in one. Clearly the speaker of the poem symbolizes Noah, and the apostrophe to the Soul creates a spirituality that exists within him. The Soul foreshadows the idea of soul mates — and by the end of the chapter, Allie is clearly Noah's soul mate.
The poem "A Clear Midnight" is not merely emotional, nor is it merely intellectual. But definitely, it is spiritual. The connection between the speaker of the poem and his soul mirrors the connection that Noah has — albeit yet unknown to new readers — with Allie.
Leaves of Grass is the poetry collection that Walt Whitman spent his entire life editing, rewriting, and adding to. Whitman was heavily influenced by transcendentalism and the romanticism that inspired it, thus indicating forms and influences of particular importance to Nicholas Sparks and The Notebook. Some of the elements of romanticism — the remote setting, an emphasis on emotion rather than reason, and an improbable plot — are found in The Notebook.
In a seemingly throw-away line early in the chapter, the narrator reveals that although Noah never married, "He had wanted to [marry] at one time." This comment also foreshadows the nature of the relationship between Noah and the unnamed lady from his past. By the end of the chapter, readers not only know her name — Allie — but they realize that Noah's ghost is no longer haunting his past; she is visiting his present.
In the flashback readers get to see Noah and Allie share their dreams — his to see the world, hers to be an artist — and this bond demonstrates that their relationship is not just physical. They are connecting as two people truly interested in the lives of one another.
Noah's neighbor, Gus, states an important theme — people work extremely hard on a particular project for one of three reasons:
- They're crazy.
- They're stupid.
- They're tryin' to forget.
You can safely assume that Noah is neither crazy nor stupid, so clearly he is trying to forget someone or something. Gus' advice also can be applied to people who do not understand the actions of others. Gus' comments are another aspect of the universality of The Notebook.
In another seemingly throw-away line, the narrator mentions that Noah writes in his journal before going to bed at night. Not only does this develop Noah's character, but also the writing provides another bit of foreshadowing.
Readers instinctively know that Allison Nelson the 29-year-old woman is also the girl from Noah's past. The circular narration enables Sparks to build suspense, as intuitive readers recognize the particular details and are able to connect the dots before the picture is fully drawn for them. Another connection that is fully drawn but not fully identified is the similarities that Noah and Allie share. For example, both bathe at the end of the day. Water symbolizes rebirth, cleansing, and refreshing. The newspaper clipping in Allie's purse is the event that is either coincidence or fate, but regardless of which of these the reader chooses to believe, the clipping is nonetheless the spark that reconnects the separated lovers.
Once again, Noah is connected with poets and poetry. In fact, the narrator specifically states that "isolation . . . was good for the soul," an idea that poets understood, as did Noah. The continued comparison of Noah to a poet is the most important and sustained bit of character development in The Notebook. A poet is an artist and a dreamer and a person connected with nature and spirituality. And the poets with whom Noah is connected further develop his character as they reveal information about his attitudes and beliefs.
The mention of Tennyson immediately brings to mind such poems as "Break Break Break," a poem inspired by the British Romantic period and "Ulysses," a dramatic monologue from the hero of The Odyssey longing for something more before his death. The reference to Dylan Thomas immediately connects Noah to Thomas' most famous poem, "Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night." The poem, a villanelle, is essentially an argument for fighting death, primarily to give closure to life by living life to the fullest until it is over. In the context of The Notebook, the life to which "Do Not Go Gentle" refers is the love between Noah and Allie. The poem is a symbolic imperative that commands Noah and Allie to fight for their love before they die, a command that foreshadows important events in the final chapter of The Notebook.
Nicholas Sparks transcends the form of a typical romance novel through his use of literary allusions. He develops characters and themes about the universality of the human experience of love and loss and fate and free will, rather than writes a story about reunited lovers and their hopes to rekindle past romantic flames. Although readers do not need to understand the allusions to understand the basic plot and themes of The Notebook, an appreciation of the seemingly insignificant references provides another layer of understanding of the sophistication of the text.
Another seemingly insignificant but actually quite important detail is how Noah refers to his beloved. To Noah, his love is "Allie" and not "Allison." This nomenclature is significant because the diminutive is a term of endearment. The importance of names is directly related to social class and social standing, which introduces the thematic topic of social inequality and the effects of social class on standing and advancement and judging others. The Notebook suggests that true love transcends the boundaries of time and socio-economic conditions.
Allie remembers lines from "Song of Myself," one of the poems Noah reads to her during their summer of love. "Song of Myself," one of the poems from Leaves of Grass, explores notions of the self and the relationship that oneself has with nature. "Song of Myself" states, paradoxically, that the self is both individual as well as universal. The poem is about sexual and spiritual union, obviously symbolizing the nature of the relationship between Noah and Allie, reiterating that their summer romance was not one of teenage lust but rather one of young adults falling deeply in love.
The chapter ends with the narrator echoing Gus' earlier sentiments that Allison is the ghost that has been haunting Noah, yet the title of the chapter is "ghosts," indicating that Noah is also a ghost for Allison.
The narrative not only switches from Allie's day to Noah's day (and back again), until the moment when their two separate stories once again combine, it also toggles between past and present, creating for the reader a sense of memory and re-memory. Sparks uses this technique to fulfill the four equally important purposes of the chapter: to provide exposition, to build suspense, to introduce the main characters, to introduce the primary conflict.
Orion, Big Dipper, Gemini constellations, or various groups of stars, that are identified by the shape of their grouping
Pole Star the brightest star and handle of the Little Dipper constellation
Walt Whitman American poet noted for his unconventional use of meter and rhyme
Leaves of Grass a famous collection of poems by Walt Whitman
Caste system social structure where class is determined by heredity
Tennyson Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Famous British poet of the Victorian era
Liquidated converted into cash
Dylan Thomas British poet of the early modern period
Noah's love for poetry, music, and the outdoors all play important roles in The Notebook, not only adding interest to a number of scenes but also deepening Noah as a character. How did you choose such divergent interests for this character?
A couple of the choices — his love of the outdoors and music — are, and always have been, intrinsic to the south, so those choices seemed natural. The choice to include a love of poetry, however, stemmed from my original belief that the story needed an almost lyrical aspect to the writing style to make Noah's voice come alive. Noah needed a "poetry of thought" so to speak. The movement and length of sentences and paragraphs in the final third of the novel were anything but arbitrary: I would estimate that those pages went through hundreds of variations until they finally "felt right."
Because I felt Noah's voice needed an element of poetry, I made the decision to include poetry throughout the novel. In other words, I wanted the story to feel consistent. I wanted Noah's tone and voice to make perfect sense, to feel correct, and for that, poetry needed to have been a major part of Noah's life all along.
Noah's dog, Clementine, is missing a leg. Did you see this as a metaphor for the part of Noah that's missing; was it to show that Noah has a great capacity for love and acceptance; or what is simply an interesting detail to make Clem memorable?
The missing leg was meant to be a metaphor of sorts: Both Noah and Clementine were wounded. Noah's love and companionship ensured that Clementine was able to overcome her "wound," just as Allie's love ensured that Noah would heal as well.
Readers learn that although Noah has been away from New Bern for 14 years, he still considers it home. His newest best friend is his neighbor Gus, a 70-year-old black man who lives down the street. Often they visit, play music, and share a drink on Noahporch.
The reason for Noah not marrying is not stated. But one of the reasons may be that he missed the opportunity to marry the one girl he would have liked to have married, his summer love of 1932, the year of his high school graduation. Fin and Sarah, two of his friends, introduced Noah to her — the woman he would want to spend the rest of his life with. Not only do the two of them become inseparable that summer, they share their virginity with one another. Noah even points out the house that he plans on buying and restoring for them. When Noah talks to Gus about the one who got away, Gus proclaims her to be the "ghost" that Noah is running from, equating the word ghost with the word "memory."
Even though Noah's father has passed away by 1946, Noah refers to him often and describes the lessons his father taught him. Your own father passed away the same year The Notebook was published. Is Noah's relationship with his father similar to your relationship with your father?
Not really. My dad was a quiet intellectual, a professor who taught business and public administration, and a kind man. But he wasn't the type of father who took an active role in the lives of his children. Often, when I was struggling with a problem, Igo to him, but he seldom, if ever, offered advice. Instead, he asked me questions, prodding me into discovering the answer on my own. He was a father and a mentor, but our relationship was different than the relationship I imagined that Noah had with his father.
The chapter then shifts to the story of Allie. She wonders if she has made the right decision, leaving her fiancé Lon, lying to Lon about the reason for her trip, a trip that requires traveling over two hours from Raleigh to New Bern. Lon and the lady with the secret had known each other for four years and are both socially matched. He is a lawyer. But she needs to confront her own ghost, her own memory of her summer love, and she finds that it is impossible to explain this to Lon.
The narrative shifts back to Noah and his work day. During this time the narrator reveals that Noah's father was the person responsible for instilling a love of poetry — particularly Whitman and Tennyson — in his son. When Noah remembers his love, he finally mentions her name — Allie. Fin had predicted that Noah and Allie would fall in love. He also predicted it would not work out. And Fin was correct on both accounts. Although Noah wrote her letters after Allie left at the end of the summer, the letters were never answered. Noah eventually leaves New Bern, for two reasons: to help him forget Allie and to find significant employment. He eventually settles in New Jersey, working in a scrap yard for Morris Goldman.
Family is deeply important to Noah, yet he feels comfortable living alone, with few friends and no nearby relatives. Does this blend of comfort being alone, yet with a respect for family, speak to his maturity?
As the novel flashes back to 1946, Noah could best be described as "emotionally wounded." In the first draft of the novel, I explored Noah's war-time experiences, including his involvement in the Battle of the Bulge, and I envisioned him as a bit scarred from the experience. In the end, however, I ended up cutting those pages. I felt they added little to the overall story, since his demeanor and lifestyle prior to Allie's return suggests the emotional wounds he'd suffered in his past. His war-time experience, the recent loss of a father he loved, and lingering memories of Allie, made Noah retreat within himself, and he found comfort in the steady act of repairing an old country home. Like everyone in the world, he was molded and formed by his history, and by rebuilding the country house, he was in essence trying to rebuild his life into something that made sense again.
Three years after he sent the last letter, Noah went to Winston Salem in an attempt to find Allie; however, her family had moved, and her father had left the company for whom he had worked, and there was no forwarding information. Eventually Noah dates a few women and even gets serious with one, but no one can fill the void in his heart left by Allie.
When World War II breaks out, Noah enlists and spends three years in the service. Just as he was getting discharged, Noah finds out that Morris Goldman had died, and the liquidation of his assets provided Noah, who received from Morris the gift of a small percentage of the scrap yard, with almost $70,000. Noah used this money to purchase the house he was refinishing. Noah's father died from pneumonia about a month after Noah showed him the house and explained his plans for the remodeling. As Noah is settling in with a Budweiser and a collection of poetry by Dylan Thomas, the narrative again shifts back to Allie.
The second poem quoted in the chapter is Allie's remembrance of Noah reading to her. She recalls the poem and many other fond memories as she travels to his house. When she arrives, he comes off the porch, moving toward her car, until he identifies her. Then he stops cold in his tracks.
Noah says that perfect love "changed him forever." Yet that love ended suddenly, inexplicably? Why did the loss of such a perfect love not make him bitter and cold?
Because love of any kind leaves ripples, and Noah found it easier to find beauty in the ripples than sadness. Underlying that notion is the belief that true love is a gift we not only give to another, but to ourselves.