Man’s Need for Love: A Review of The Goldfinch
Donna Tartt has said that her goal is to write 5 books in her life, spending about a decade on each book. The results of her long and thorough work are intricate and compelling stories. The Goldfinch immerses you deeply into the life of Theodore Decker from boyhood to manhood. Many reviewers have labelled The Goldfinch as a “Dickensian” novel. This is a fitting label because the story is not overly plot-driven as most bestsellers, but rather takes the time to let you see, feel, and understand Theodore’s life.
The book has an explosive beginning. A young Theodore is visiting an art museum with his mother when terrorists set off bombs to blow the place up. Theodore is one of the few survivors of the incident, his mother is not. While escaping the remains of the museum, Theodore takes a souvenir, a masterpiece painting The Goldfinch.
The Goldfinch is to Theodore what the river is to Huckleberry Finn. As Theodore’s life plays out we find him in many different scenes. We see him face the foster system in New York, the party atmosphere of Las Vegas, and the refined world of antiques. He meets and makes friends with a wide array of people- from the business elite to local drug dealers. No matter how insane Theo’s life gets, the one constant in his life is the The Goldfinch.
This book resonates with so many people because it deals with one thing many people have but pretend isn’t there–sadness. Ever since the loss of his mother, Theo’s attitude is generally melancholy. Even in the more joyful moments in the book, an ever-present sorrow looms in the background. He is constantly trying to drown out the sadness. He tries to numb the pain with work, art, and mostly drugs and alcohol.
On the surface Theo’s appetite for pharmaceuticals seems to stem from his need to deal with the sadness of having lost his mother and other important people in his life. However there is an additional issue driving him to self-medicate. It is the unmet desire of a loving relationship. While the loss of a parent is a blaring beacon to understand his purpose for drug abuse, his unfulfilled wishes is a subtle theme we find in the story. But make no mistake, it is every bit as potent.
There is only one person Theodore believes could ever understand him and and the trauma of having lost his mother in an explosion. It is a fellow survivor of the attack on the museum, a young girl named Pippa. Theo and Pippa grow up being in and out of each other’s lives. They are never very close, but for Theo it is love at first sight. Theo has several affairs, but he finds no fulfillment in them. The relationships are only carnal, there is no love in them. Realizing that Pippa will never return his love, he pursues another relationship. He finds some fulfillment in that relationship, but Pippa always holds first place in his heart.
Theodore looks back to his mother as the only person who loved, understood, and even admired him. The thing he wants so desperately is to know that kind of love again. It is a desire that far surpasses the need for any narcotic. And whether they know it or not, that need to be loved is shared by all of mankind.
God created men and women to be relational. This stems from two major doctrines of the Christian faith. The first is that God is a Trinity, the unification of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. At the very core of God’s existence is the deepest of relationships. The second is about the design of mankind. When God created humans he said, “Let us make man in our image.” (Gen 1:26). The essence of God’s very existence is relational. Mankind is made in God’s image. Therefore, Man is relational.
That same deep level of intimacy that Theodore craves is a trait shared by all fellow man. Sure enough man can find a quality measure of satisfaction in lovers, family, and good friends. But ultimately, complete relational fulfillment only comes when man is reunited with God. And that comes through a relationship with Jesus Christ.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Goldfinch and stayed intrigued throughout the entire 700+ page tome. After reading this book I am convinced that Donna Tartt is one of the few authors of our age that might be remembered in classic literature. Although Theo’s worldview is nihilistic at times and existential most others, many of his observations of the world are consistent with the Biblical worldview. After reading his story, I have found myself more empathetic to the sorrows of others. At the end of the book I wished I could jump into the story, be Theo’s friend, and tell him about love of Jesus, which fulfills our deepest longings.
You can contact Tim Arndt at firstname.lastname@example.org