Metaphysics, Morality, and If I Stay

images.jpegFor English class I was assigned the book If I Stay by Gayle Forman. It may be surprising to know that this had been at my request. I had specifically requested to read this book for several reasons. Go ahead and classify it as “girly” or “mawkish” as you wish; this book, I knew, beneath all of its teen romance, had a very deep and touching meaning. Upon first sight it fascinated me. There are some themes in this book that I feel were very insightful and thought-provoking, so here is my analysis of If I Stay (spoilers ahead).

Here is a very brief synopsis: Mia Hall is put into a coma after she and her family get into a car accident. Whether Mia decides to stay with the living or join her dearly departed parents and brother is up to her. The course of the novel documents her thoughts and how she chooses to deal with her life or death dilemma. A majority of the story consists of Mia reminiscing about her family, best friend, and boyfriend, and how everything will be affected by her decision.

One aspect of the book that really made me think was how Mia, the narrator, was able to reflect in a sort of ghost-like state. The mind-body problem comes up here. It is explained in the book that while Mia’s physical body is lying in a hospital bed receiving treatment, her soul (or spirit) — if you will — is able to freely roam outside of the body. Though she cannot interact with anything, e.g. walls and doors, she can walk around and examine her surroundings. This is not scientifically correct, for it is obviously for narrative purposes. Throughout the book Mia tries to wake herself up, thinking that maybe she can just wake up and be done with the nightmare. If dualism is correct and her body is merely an agent for her all-powerful mind or spirit, then perhaps Mia has successfully separated her mind from her corporeal manifestation. Another interesting concept the book introduces is this idea that perhaps Mia, not the medical expertise, is truly responsible for what happens. A nurse comments that Mia is in control, that Mia can decide at any time. At some point Mia considers this further. Did her parents decide? Did her brother? If so, they chose to stop resisting. She brings up a more general question, one which really captured my interest. Does everyone who is dying have a choice? You may automatically respond with a firm no, I mean after all, if everyone had the choice to live or die, wouldn’t they still be here? This brings up further discussion. At this point, we are under the pretense that Mia could, at any time, decide to stay. Would that mean that she just instantly wakes up? It is not until the end of the book that I was able to answer this very question which ravaged my mind.

Towards the middle and end of the book, Mia faces numerous events that make her question whether it is worth living. Deep consideration and what I believe to be nihilism leads Mia to believe that life is simply not worth returning to. There is a small spark of Schopenhauer’s pessimism peeking out here. With her little brother Teddy gone with her parents and her relationship with Adam in shambles, Mia begins to think of leaving behind her life. It is not as simple as it seems: make a decision and accept your fate. A teenager with a promising musical career ahead of her and a loving boyfriend who happens to be a rising pop star, Mia still has something to hold onto. Part of what make this novel so amazing is its intense moral battle. Her grandparents share  a touching moment with Mia in the hospital. I am man enough to admit that my eyes teared up when it came to a conversation between an unconscious Mia and her grandpa. Full of tears, Gramps tells Mia that whatever she chooses is okay. If she decides to leave them, to join her parents, he understands. While he wants her to stay, he realizes it is up to her. Mia acknowledges this and notes a sense of relief. Further, when a distraught Adam (her boyfriend) talks to Mia, he begs her to stay. Without her, he is miserable. Part of Mia wants to ignore Adam, as he will make her decision harder; Mia is tormented by guilt. She feels selfish wanting to be with her parents. Kim, Mia’s best friend, attempts to convince Mia to stay as well. Kim reassures Mia that, while her family has passed away, she still has family. Mia’s relatives huddle in the lobby outside. Memories of good times with her family resurface, and Mia starts seeing things in a new light. In these simple times surrounded by loved ones, she tells herself, “This is what happiness feels like” (Forman 225). Sure, her life will never be the same and she will never be able to get what she lost back, but the future has more to bring; there is still family waiting for Mia on the other side. Us readers are convinced Mia has chosen to leave our world, but we now see in this epiphany that Mia has come to her senses.

Finally, Mia has something to live for. These memories of taking care of her little brother and joking with her parents still live on. As you can see, the plot is not some straight path. Mia is struggling with one of the toughest obstacles in the world. Her emotions. Her morals. Herself. The book is no longer a question of what, rather it is now about why. In the end, when Mia tries to communicate with Adam, she thinks maybe if she puts her soul back into her body she will awaken again. It does not work. It is only when the pleas of her boyfriend, the doubts of her best friend, the encouragement of her family, and the music that makes Mia feel alive that Mia awakens from her coma. Her first experience is that of her holding Adam’s hand in a sentimental ending.

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