A Comparative: Kristin Hannah’s “The Nightingale” and “The Great Alone”- Part 3: Love

If you are reading this comparative for the first time, I recommend reading through parts one and two to give more background.  For a quick synopsis, reading Kristin Hannah’s, “The Nightingale,” piqued my interest to read more by this amazing author.  I was so impressed by her writing abilities.  She created a mesmerizing and eye-opening world of Nazi occupation in France during World War II and two very strong female lead characters.  So I went in search of another story written by her and found her most recent novel, “The Great Alone.”  This novel took place during the 1970s in the wilds of Alaska.  There are many overlapping themes of the two novels, but I am focusing on survival, identity, and love.

Today, comparisons in the two novels will revolve around love.  In both stories, the two main characters are in relationships but the love that each of them have for family members is what rises above all else.  It seems as if the author, Kristin Hannah, has seen love in its many forms and elevated the platonic, yet life-saving force of familial love to a higher level in these novels. 

In “The Nightingale,” each of the sisters experiences love.  Vianne’s love is that of a wife and a mother devoted to her family; Isabelle’s love is young love, more of an infatuation than love.  What is the most powerful love of all for both of them is their love for each other as sisters.  This is seen in glimpses throughout the novel, but especially in Vianne’s protective force of saving her sister, Isabelle.  For her part, Isabelle shows love for Vianne in a less forceful way, but the reader can see how she grows out of her antagonistic relationship with Vianne into one of complete sisterly love by the time she arrives at her home to spend her final days.

Further, Isabelle and Vianne personified love in their acts of pure charity.  Isabelle showed love in its purest form when she saved downed airmen time and again by safely leading them out of enemy territory.  Vianne’s maternal love leads her to acts of heroism for many children including saving the lives of Jewish children facing extermination by the Nazis.  The war brought out such tremendous love in both of these women.  How can that be?  What did the author mean to tell us with this? 

There are many acts of heroism in wars, but she chose to focus on these amazing acts of bravery by women whom many would have looked at as not valuable in society.  Juxtaposed against the war, these acts of love are even more tremendous.  At a time of barbaric acts and opportunities for evil doers to take over, these acts of love served as sprouting blades of grass needed to cover the land with color and life again.   Truly, these acts did multiply into fields of blooms many years later as we as the readers are so gifted to see in the end of the novel.  What a beautiful conclusion to such a beautiful novel.

In “The Great Alone,” the romantic stories of love are between Leni and Matthew as well as Cora and Ernt.  However, again, in this novel the focus and love stories that are elevated higher are the mother-daughter love between Cora and Leni.  The many sacrifices that each of them make for each other throughout the novel are fascinating.  How could Cora’s love be so strong for Leni? And vice versa?  Their bond of love is unbreakable and comes at a high price to each of them.  For Cora, it meant killing her husband to protect her daughter and soon to be grandson.  For Leni, it meant abandoning the love of her life, Matthew, at his weakest.  Both of them do valiant things for the maintenance of their love for each other, but at great peril to others.  In the end, this all works out for each of them, but it raises many questions for the reader.  At what cost can love be upheld?  How much should another human suffer while this love is maintained?  In the end, both Cora and Leni pay their costs and make up for their transgressions with the law.  It is fascinating that while Isabelle and Vianne showed love during war, Cora and Leni showed the power of their love for each other during their own family’s war.  Love and war side by side make for a great canvas for the power of love.   This author was able to paint both novels to show that power. 

Thank you for reading through this series of comparative essays.  I hope to continue with other favorite authors of mine in the future!

© 2020 Megan Davia Mikhail

%d bloggers like this: