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A Million Little Pieces

Main Ideas

Themes

Main Ideas Themes

Self-reliance as a means of salvation

James’s insistence on taking responsibility for his actions is a major part of his personality. This quality remains constant throughout the book but is put to different, more constructive uses as the story progresses. It is fair to say that James is stubborn, even selfish, as the story opens. He flat-out refuses to allow anyone to help or even befriend him in the beginning stages of his stay at the clinic, which results in a very lonely existence. James seems to see this as a part of the “tough guy” act that he’s apparently been living most of his life. He refuses to abide by the Alcoholics Anonymous mantra to “Let Go and Let God.” As time goes on, this behavior transforms into a relentless sense of personal responsibility. James does not believe in letting someone else shoulder the consequences of what he’s done, so he must make a conscious effort not to use drugs based on his own will. He’s given a chance to blame his condition on both a childhood ear infection and the fact that his family may be genetically predisposed to addiction, but he is reluctant to even use those excuses. In the end, James’s self-reliance settles into a form that allows him to accomplish his goal of being sober for the rest of his life.

Throughout the book, James wanders the halls of the clinic, thinking about how badly he needs to feed himself. This intense hunger obscures all rational thought. In his first few meals at the clinic, he eats uncontrollably, using his fingers to shove the food down his throat. As the book progresses, it’s apparent that James’s need to eat occurs mostly when the Fury (what James calls his anger) is present or in danger of appearing. As James learns to control the Fury, he no longer has to eat as frenetically as he does in the beginning of his stay at the clinic. He also learns that there are other ways of feeding the Fury and his addiction: Lilly satiates it, as does being around his friends and feeling as though he is a part of a family. Toward the end of the book, his gluttony—whether for food, anger, pain, attention, or drugs—abates. As he watches a group of men in his clinic stuffing themselves with a steak and lobster feast, he begins to realize that his intense hunger, a form of addiction, is not unique to himself but also present in other addicts at the clinic.