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Free Study Guide - The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks

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THE NOTEBOOK BY NICHOLAS SPARKS

FREE CHAPTER SUMMARY

GHOSTS

Summary

This chapter switches to the third person point of view as it opens with an introduction to Noah Calhoun in October 1946. He is sitting on his wrap-around porch of a plantation-style home. He sits here every evening, which is a routine that helps him relax. This house was built in 1772 in the town of New Bern, North Carolina. Originally, it was the main house of a working plantation, and he had bought it right after the war ended and had spent the last eleven months and a small fortune repairing it. It had been featured in a Raleigh newspaper as one of the finest restorations the writer had ever seen. However, the grounds had yet to be restored, and that was Noah’s current project. He discovers as he sits on the porch that there are benefits to work: the sweat, the fatigue, the sense of accomplishment, the cleanliness of a late-day shower, and the glass of iced tea on the porch at the end of the day.

Noah also reaches for his guitar, an instrument that reminds him of his father and makes him realize how much he misses him. He plays and sings until the sun goes down and then sits back again to look at the stars. He starts to run numbers through his head - he has spent almost his entire savings on the house, and soon he will have to find a job again. However, he pushes away the thought of being broke and decides to enjoy the remaining months of the restoration. He knows the need for a job will eventually work out.

Noah is eventually joined by Clem, his hound dog, who we learn is his only companion. Noah is thirty-one years old, just old enough to be lonely. He hasn’t dated anyone for a long time, because there is something that keeps a distance between him and any woman who starts to get close. It’s something he’s not sure he can change even if he tries. He wonders if he is destined to be alone forever.

Like always, he turns to nature for comfort. “The sound of nature is more real and arouses more emotion than things like cars and planes. Natural things give back more than they take, and their sounds always bring him back to the way man is supposed to be.” His father had told him that sounds of nature are “God’s music and they’ll take you home.” The thoughts of nature make him take out his favorite, dog-eared copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. This author always reminds him of New Bern and how glad he is that he has come back.

These days, his best friend is Gus, a seventy year-old black man, who lives down the road. They had met a couple of weeks after Noah had bought the house, and Gus had shown up with some homemade liquor and Brunswick stew. Now, he shows up every few nights to get away momentarily from his four children and eleven grandchildren. He brings his harmonica, and they sing and play together. Noah has come to think of Gus as his only family. His mother died when he was two, and his father has recently died, so Gus fills the gaps. Noah has never married, even though he had wanted to once. It had been the only time he had been in love. “Once and only once, and a long time ago. And it had changed him forever. Perfect love did that to a person, and this had been perfect.”

Now Noah’s thoughts begin to drift to a warm evening like this one fourteen years before. It was 1932 and the opening night of the Neuse River Festival. He strolled through the crowd looking for friends and found Fin and Sarah talking with a girl he’d never seen before. They introduced him to her, and as he shook her hand, Noah knew that she was the one he could spend the rest of his life with. She was spending the summer in New Bern with her family. The four new friends spent the evening together until the festival closed for the night. Then, Noah and the new girl met the next day, and they soon became inseparable. They spent their days doing things that were completely unfamiliar to her while she taught Noah how to dance. Later in the summer, Noah brought her to the decaying old plantation home and told her that someday he was going to own it and fix it up. They spent hours talking about their dreams - his of seeing the world and hers of being an artist. Eventually, they became lovers, both losing their virginity. Three weeks later, she had to leave and their summer together became a lingering memory for Noah.

Noah eventually talks to Gus about this girl, and Gus says she is the “ghost that Noah has been running from.” Now Noah realizes that New Bern is haunted by the ghost of her memory. No matter whether he sits on his porch and plays his guitar or he goes to the drug store or to the theater, he sees her image everywhere. Gus says that his daddy once told him that the first time you fall in love, it changes your life forever and no matter how hard you try, the feeling never goes away.


Noah shakes away her face in his mind by turning back to Whitman and eventually writing in his journal his personal observations and the work he has accomplished on the house. Finally, he falls asleep, having spent the day working as hard as he could so he can forget her, at least for awhile.

Earlier that same evening and a hundred miles away, the girl Noah can never forget is sitting on her own porch swing. She wonders if she has made the right decision. However, she knows that if she doesn’t follow through, she’ll never forgive herself. Lon, her fiancé, doesn’t know the real reason she is leaving the following morning. He just thinks the stress of the wedding has made it necessary for her to get away for a few days. So, the next morning, she packs up and leaves Raleigh, checking into a small inn downtown. She calls Lon right away and after the call reminisces about how she had met him at a Christmas party, where she saw in him someone with confidence about the future and a sense of humor that drove away all her fears. He was a lawyer, successful and handsome. Most important, he had the requisite family name and accomplishments. She had always rebelled against this idea, but the man that Lon became drove away her dislike of “marrying well.” However, despite her guilt about deceiving Lon, she pushes on with her intentions in the town. She also knows her parents would disapprove of what she is doing, but again, she seems determined to follow through.

She dresses casually and thinks momentarily of changing her mind. However, she pulls a folded-up piece of newspaper from her pocketbook and decides as she stares at it that this is what it’s all about.

Meanwhile, Noah rises at five, goes kayaking, and then fishing. It always makes him reflect on his life. As a child, he had stuttered so badly that by the age of five he had stopped speaking altogether. His father then had taken matters into his own hands and made the boy come with him everyday to the lumberyard to stack wood together with his dad. During their time together, Noah’s father would tell him stories about birds or animals or legends common to North Carolina. In the evenings, his father would have him read aloud from Whitman and Tennyson. By the following year, Noah had lost his stutter and became passionately in love with camping and exploring. He realized that “poets knew the isolation in nature, far from people and things man-made, was good for the soul, and he’s always identified with poets.”

Noah had dated a few girls in school, but none meant as much as Allie, his Allie. Fin had laughed and said that he predicted they would fall out of love and that it wouldn’t work out. He ended up being right on both counts. Noah could never meet the expectations of Allie’s parents who wanted her to marry within her class. Allie had vowed that they would find a way to be together, but in the end, they couldn’t. He told her at the end of the summer when her parents were taking her away, that “the summer was over, Allie, but not us.” He began to write to her every day, but his letters went unanswered.

As a result of his lost love, Noah left New Bern, traveling first to Norfolk, Virginia, where he worked at a shipyard. Then, he went to New Jersey where he ended up in a scrap yard owned by Morris Goldman, who believed that he would get rich on all the scrap he was collecting, since he was convinced it would be needed when an inevitable war began. This wonderful Jewish man believed a person should “give a day’s work for a day’s pay. Anything less is stealing,” and he also thought it was a shame that Noah wasn’t Jewish, because he was such a fine boy in every other way. He worked for Morris for eight years, leaving only once to travel to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, in search of Allie. He discovered that her family had moved and left no forwarding address. It was the first and last time he looked for her. He even wrote his final letter and forced himself to accept the fact that the summer they had spent together would be the only thing they ever shared.

By 1940, Noah had mastered Morris’ business and was running the entire operation. He dated a few women during that time and even became serious with one. However, he could never bring himself to feel the same way about her as he felt for Allie. As for the woman he was dating, she told him once, “I wish I could give you what you’re looking for, but I don’t know what it is. There’s a part of you that you keep closed off from everyone, including me. It’s as if I’m not the one you’re really with. You mind is on someone else.” Eventually, she met someone else, and they parted as friends. In the meantime, he saw his father once a year at Christmas, when they would talk, fish, and go camping.

In December, 1941, when Noah was twenty-six, the war began just as Morris predicted. He told Morris he was going to enlist, said good-bye to his father, and entered boot camp. While he was there, Morris sent him a letter in which he thanked Noah for all his hard work and included a certificate that entitled Noah to a percentage of the scrap yard if it ever sold. For the next three years, Noah fought with Patton’s Third Army. He saw friends die around him and be buried thousands of miles from home, and once, while he was hiding in a foxhole, he imagined he saw Allie watching over him. Soon after the war ended and he was discharged, he received a letter from Morris’ lawyer. Goldman had died the year before and his estate had been liquidated. Noah’s share of the profit was $70,000.

Noah returned to New Bern and bought the plantation house he had always wanted. However, he was oddly unexcited about it or the money. He brought his father around to see what he was going to do and talk about the steps his renovation would take. His father seemed weak and he coughed and wheezed as he walked. His father assured him that he just had the flu, but one month later, he was dead of pneumonia. Noah took it hard, dropping by frequently to his parents’ grave to leave flowers and occasionally a note. And every night without fail, he said a prayer for the man who’d taught him everything that mattered.

Now, Noah’s thoughts drift away, and the past disappears for awhile. He puts away his fishing line and discovers his neighbor, Martha, at his house with homemade bread as thanks for all the repairs he has done on her house. Her husband had been killed in the war, and Noah tries to help her out whenever she needs it. Then, he picks up Gus’ daughter, goes to the General Store, and does his grocery shopping. Once home, he finds a Budweiser, a book by Dylan Thomas, and a chair on the porch.

Meanwhile, the girl, Allie, is still looking at the newspaper article she had folded up in her pocketbook. She had discovered it three Sundays before after her father had pointed it out and asked if she remembered the house. She was pale and shaking as she read it, but she whispered to herself that this is where it would end, one way or another. So the article is the reason she has come to New Bern. She climbs into the car and begins her journey. She is not surprised that she knows her way around town so well, but she feels her insides tighten as one by one she recognizes the landmarks she had long since forgotten. A majestic oak tree on the banks of the river comes into view, and she remembers sitting beneath it on a hot July day with someone who looked at her with a longing that took everything else away. Now as she drives along, she remembers every detail about him, especially the sound of his voice as he read poetry to her. She would tell him all her hopes and dreams, and he would promise to make it all come true.

Now comes another turn in the road, and she finally sees the house, dramatically changed from what she remembers. She slows as she approaches what she thinks of as the beacon that has summoned her from Raleigh. Then, she sees him on the porch with the light from the sun behind him. She stops the car and slowly emerges. Noah begins to approach and then stops short when he sees who it is. For a moment, all they can do is stare at each other without moving. They are “Allison Nelson, twenty-nine years old and engaged, a socialite, searching for answers she needs to know, and Noah Calhoun, the dreamer, thirty-one, visited by the ghost that had come to dominate his life.”

Notes

This chapter is a combination of flashback and foreshadowing as Noah’s present life is explained and his past life is revealed. We are also introduced to a girl who turns out to be the love he had never forgotten. She is engaged, but has come back to New Bern to act on her feelings and either reunite with Noah or put those feelings for him away forever.

 

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