The Heart versus the Mind: The Central Theme in A Walk to Remember
Ask anyone which makes more sense, listening to logic or listening to your heart, and the vast majority will tell you that logic wins. When you have a decision to make, if you create a spreadsheet, make a pro-con list, and seek advice from friends and family, you will make the best decision for you. Listen to your heart, on the other hand, and you're bound to emotionalize and sentimentalize the issue, leading to poor decisions.
Nicholas Sparks, in A Walk to Remember, sets out to debunk this theory. In this novel, Sparks shows us that the best decisions — the ones that matter the most in our lives — are best made by listening to your heart. Landon Carter, the protagonist, has been listening to his mind for years. He has known Jamie Sullivan all his life, and his "logic" tells him that she's nothing special — in fact, that she's rather strange. Because she carries a Bible with her all the time, she must be a religious fanatic. Because she's nice to everyone, she must be boring and one-dimensional. Because she helps the less fortunate, she must be overly sentimental. Because she's plain and wears dowdy clothing, she must be someone to avoid. And, later, because she is dying, she must be beyond anyone's help.
Landon struggles as he moves from someone who thinks to someone who feels. Thinking through issues involves a rather simple procedure: Gather the facts, review them, and make a decision based on those facts. For example, Jamie carries a Bible with her everywhere, and she's the minister's daughter. Those are the facts. A review of those facts suggests that she clings to her faith in an unhealthy way, unable to pull herself away from her Bible studies for even a few hours. People who are overly zealous about their religious beliefs tend to be too intense and, therefore, difficult to spend time with. For those reasons, Jamie is someone to avoid because she must be a religious fanatic.
However, when Landon spends time with Jamie, he finds that although she is comfortable discussing her religious beliefs, asking deep questions, and searching for complex answers, she is not fanatical. She is, in fact, quite ordinary, with normal teenage fears, desires, and frustrations. Although she is confident in her beliefs, she is also the very definition of kind and gentle; she does not push her beliefs on anyone else. And she carries her Bible to be close to her mother, not to advertise her faith. Jamie does not live up to the expectation that the "facts" would have Landon believe.
Such is nearly always true when listening to the heart. The head tends to cling to the negative because logic tells us that no one could be that good, that selfless, that sure of her religious beliefs without requiring the same of others. So the logical mind believes the worst about Jamie. The heart, however, believes the best. The heart dreams, loves, takes chances, defies the odds, while the head will explain to you why those dreams will never come to fruition, why love always results in heartache, why the chances taken are silly ones that will never pan out, and why the odds are set against you.
But somehow, Landon Carter learns to listen to his heart and disregard all else. Logic insists that Jamie is beyond his help, that there is nothing he can do for her. Logic insists that Jamie will die from her disease, that Landon will forget her, move on, and live out his life with someone else. Logic dictates that marrying someone in her final days is sentimental and emotional, and will have no bearing on the cold, hard facts of her illness. Yet Landon opts for the heart, choosing to believe in a miracle, choosing to marry Jamie in spite of their young age and her advanced illness. And Landon spends the next 40 years devoted to her, which also defies logic. If she lived, he spent those years happily married to someone he met at an age when few people are able to make successful lifelong decisions. And if she died, he carried his love for her for 40 years without ever pursuing another relationship. Neither ending makes any logical sense, which is exactly why readers respond to this story. Landon listens to his heart, which is where all good, brave, and noble decisions are made.