Theme summation, The Things We Do

The Things We Do

by Kay Pfaltz

 

 

            The Things We Do is a psychological whodunit that reveals the importance not only of what people say and do, but also of what they think and feel. Events or images in a person’s mind can feel, or be, more real than actual occurrences. Intrinsically normal characters become interesting when thrown into choice situations. Therefore, the story is about people trying to be and do good in difficult or tempting situations, while simultaneously seeking their own personal happiness. The characters illustrate the fact that as humans we’re combinations of both good deeds and less good deeds performed usually in attempt to get events to go our own way. While there may exist few absolutes, attainment of the good or the absolute still remains a valid goal in human existence.

            The Things We Do was originally entitled Stone Walls Do Not A Prison Make from Richard Lovelace’s To Althea from Prison, whose last stanza contains the well-known lines:

 

                        Stone walls do not a prison make,

                        Nor iron bars a cage

 

And, like the poem, the manuscript maintains that true liberty, which comes from freedom of the soul, cannot be threatened by chains or fetters. The story is a study of this, as Jane the convicted murderer is revealed to be more free than the characters outside the prison walls, all caught in their small lives, consumed by petty problems, destructive patterns and various states of unhappiness.

            This, then, is the main theme of the novel, while other themes are failure of love, failure to live up to one’s ideals, the incompatibility of two individuals and compassion for all beings.

            Another theme is something that Eleanor, the therapist, struggles with throughout the story: that the pain of the past is important, for contained in that pain is memory. Sometimes the worst pain becomes the strongest and most life-giving force through memory. Memory has the power with time to comfort.

            There is also the theme of anticipatory happiness—the anticipating of events to come in place of actually living them in the moment—which Eleanor realizes sitting on the bench in the park beside her best friend, Cory. David, the policeman, also realizes this, without knowing that he does, in cooking his meal for, and dreaming about a future with, Sylvie.

            There is the theme of compassion for all, be they humans (black, gay, the incarcerated) or animals (dogs, cats, but also spiders and mice.)

            And still another theme is that love frees us from our self-imposed prisons. The Things We Do is a study of love: love of dog, of spouse, love unrequited, or loving friendships. Whether one finds love in a neighbor or a friend, a gay person or a straight person, in one’s work, from an animal, or within the state penitentiary, does not matter. What matters is that one love.

            The lovers (husband and wife, husband and mistress, best friend, etc.) all strive for some state of happiness, when they would do better to realize that the very moment is the closest they will come to perfection: the perfection of contentment, or perhaps deep and quiet joy.

            Sexual tension is palpable, if misdirected, in all of the characters, many of whom mistake the sexual act for love itself.

            Finally, The Things We Do is composed of words, but describes silence. The silence of no words, or perhaps the silences that fall between words.