The Discovery of Faith
In the early part of the novel, religious faith is presented only in the form of Jamie Sullivan as seen through the immature eyes of Landon Carter. He mocks her for her Christian faith, pointing out that whatever happens in life, good or bad, Jamie always attributes it to the “Lord’s plan.” Jamie has faith in God no matter what happens, and she shows it by carrying her Bible with her at all times. In breaks at school, rather than chatting with friends, Jamie prefers to read the Bible. Landon, on the other hand, has no interest in religion. He attends church only because everyone is expected to do so. It means nothing to him personally. But as he gradually gets to know Jamie his attitude slowly begins to change. He first mentions faith in chapter 10, after Jamie has confessed that she does not always understand what the Lord’s plan might be. He replies that one must have faith, although he does not really know what he is talking about, and he knows that he does not, and he soon steers the conversation away from God and toward romance. But after Jamie tells him she is dying, he faces his own personal crisis and turns with all sincerity to religion. He prays for a miracle and starts reading the Bible. Later, he and Jamie read the Bible together. It is when Landon reads a particular Bible passage that he finds the answer to the question that has been troubling him: what more can he do for Jamie? He feels that he has finally received an answer from God, and this shows his faith has been rewarded. For her part, Jamie never for a moment loses or even questions her faith.
Coming of Age
The novel covers only a few months in the life of Landon Carter, but these are vitally important months because they mark his coming of age, his rapid transition from an aimless and rebellious adolescence to a mature adulthood. Landon is forced by circumstances to grow up very quickly. At the beginning of the novel, he is a senior in high school with no real ambitions, no record of achievement, and a reputation for indulging with his buddies in immature pranks. He thinks it is fun to mock Jamie Sullivan for her unconventional appearance and her religious faith. He takes the drama class only because he is expecting to be able to sleep though most of the classes. Hegbert Sullivan thinks he is irresponsible, and his judgment is accurate. But hiding underneath Landon’s irresponsible exterior is a young man who has a capacity to feel deeply and to rise to exceptionally difficult challenges. He first has to shake himself loose from peer pressure, the pressure exerted on him by his peer group to be just like them. This is a difficult thing for him to accomplish. Jamie Sullivan has always been a girl who attracts the ridicule of Landon’s friends, so how is he to be any different? But gradually, he finds the strength of character to express his devotion to Jamie no matter what others think. He is learning to follow his own heart and moral conscience, even if this means acting contrary to what his circle of friends approves of. This kind of independent action is quite different from the deliberate rebelliousness he has cultivated up to this point in his life. As his love for Jamie deepens, Landon learns how to behave selflessly, to be generous to others, and to survive a test of character in the severest of circumstances—the fatal illness of the girl he has fallen in love with. In the way he handles himself during these difficult months he shows he has taken a huge step toward becoming a responsible adult, knowing how to love another and being aware of his obligations to himself, his family, and his community.
Forgiveness and Reconciliation
When the novel begins, there are some deep-seated, long-held family wounds in the town of Beaufort. Landon is estranged from his father, Worth Carter, the Washington D. C. politician who is hardly ever at home. It is as if Landon has grown up in a one-parent home. Not only this, Worth Carter and Hegbert Sullivan are at odds. Hegbert has not forgiven the Carter family because he once worked for Worth Carter’s father, who built up his fortune through ruthless business practices. But Jamie’s illness effects reconciliation in both these situations. The wealthy Worth Carter persuades Hegbert to accept financial help to meet Jamie’s medical expenses, as a result of which Landon drops his resentment of his father. His father acts as best man at his son’s wedding, and Landon says he knows he can count on him. Worth’s generosity also effects a reconciliation with Hegbert, and fulfills at least something of what Jamie once mentioned to Landon—that the Carter family might one day give back some of the money that Landon’s grandfather made by unethical means.