Please wait while we process your payment
If you don't see it, please check your spam folder. Sometimes it can end up there.
Don’t have an account?
Create Your Account
Sign up for your FREE 7-day trial
Already have an account? Log in
Choose Your Plan
$4.99/month + tax
$24.99/year + tax
Save over 50% with a SparkNotes PLUS Annual Plan!
for a group?
Get Annual Plans at a discount when you buy 2 or more!
$18.74 /subscription + tax
Subtotal $37.48 + tax
on 2-49 accounts
on 50-99 accounts
Want 100 or more?
for a customized plan.
You'll be billed after your free trial ends.
7-Day Free Trial
Renews December 11, 2023
December 4, 2023
Discounts (applied to next billing)
This is not a valid promo code.
(one code per order)
Annual Plan - Group Discount
SparkNotes Plus subscription is $4.99/month or $24.99/year as selected above. The free trial period is the first 7 days of your subscription. TO CANCEL YOUR SUBSCRIPTION AND AVOID BEING CHARGED, YOU MUST CANCEL BEFORE THE END OF THE FREE TRIAL PERIOD. You may cancel your subscription on your Subscription and Billing page or contact Customer Support at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your subscription will continue automatically once the free trial period is over. Free trial is available to new customers only.
For the next 7 days, you'll have access to awesome PLUS stuff like AP English test prep, No Fear Shakespeare translations and audio, a note-taking tool, personalized dashboard, & much more!
You’ve successfully purchased a group discount. Your group members can use the joining link below to redeem their group membership. You'll also receive an email with the link.
Members will be prompted to log in or create an account to redeem their group membership.
Thanks for creating a SparkNotes account! Continue to start your free trial.
Your PLUS subscription has expired
See discount terms and conditions.
Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
The distinction between appearance and reality is one of the most important themes of the novel. No one in The Good Soldier is really who he seems to be, or who Dowell thinks him to be. Edward is not an honest, trustworthy "good soldier"; Florence is not a demure and faithful wife; and Leonora is not an upright, "normal" woman devoid of passion or emotion. The novel traces Dowell's realization that appearances are not reality, that the four are not really "good people."
Dowell's gradual realization, however, is trumped by the fact that the idea of "good people" seems to lose its very definition as the novel progresses. If this well-born and well-mannered English couple is not "good," and if his own wife is deceiving him, then he feels he has nothing to believe in. In the absence of appearances, Dowell is left only with madness, a skewed perception of reality. Ultimately, as the novel's first-person narration shows, personal perception is all one can ever have. "Reality" is merely one individual's version of the truth.
The Good Soldier constructs adultery as a destabilizing force in society. At its very core, it is a violation of the marriage contract, and the betrayal of a promise. But more deeply, adultery undermines the family structure on which the unity of the country is built. It can be both an act of power and of passion. Edward seeks the arms of another woman in order to escape Leonora's total control. Conversely, Leonora regains power by attempting to control even his adulterous liaisons.
The novel presents two kinds of adultery: the conservative type practiced by Rodney Bayham, and the passionate type led by Edward Ashburnham. Of the two, it is the passionate type that is dangerous, because such an affair leads to impracticality and instability. Edward's "abnormal" attachment to his mistresses, not sex, brings about the collapse of his marriage, and his eventual suicide.
In The Good Soldier, Dowell assumes faithfulness in marriage to be a very basic level of human morality. When faithfulness is questioned, all morality seems threated. Confused, Dowell wonders, "and if everything is so nebulous about a matter so elementary as the morals of sex, what is there to guide us in the more subtle morality of all other personal contacts, associations, and activities? Or all we meant to act on impulse alone? It is all a darkness."
Ford's novel defines and redefines normality. Dowell uses the term to assign people to categories: normal or abnormal, passionate or restrained, hero or villain. Such a system allows him to restore order to a morally chaotic world. He considers women like Leonora and men like Rodney Bayham to be "perfectly normal" individuals, content to live according to society's rules. Dowell associates "normality" with a lack of passion, and he uses the term in an increasingly condescending manner.
But Dowell's use of the term marginalizes passionate, socially threatening people like Edward and Florence. By deeming them abnormal and out of the mainstream, he makes them pose less of a threat to a stable order. However Dowell's sympathy lies with the "villains," and he is eventually forced to the realization that "normality" is something which does not exist. He sees that one group is not more right than another but that there is an "irresolvable pluralism of truths in a world that remains essentially dark." Leonora, the "normal woman," has acted in a decidedly abnormal way, losing her pride and nobility and becoming darkly, subtly treacherous. Yet Dowell also faces the fact that such uncontrolled passion is a serious threat to society. And though he admits that he "doesn't like society much," he also concedes that it "must go on."
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Good Soldier!