Tom Sherbourne, a lighthouse keeper who recently returned from the frontlines of World War One, hopes to put all his heartbreaks and suffering behind him on the battlefield and looks forward to enjoying a peaceful life with his wife on Janus Rock. Yet, the couple’s serenity is broken by a life-altering decision: keeping an infant that is not theirs.
Should they be condemned or forgiven? By illustrating the hardships suffered by the couple, Stedman explores the beauty in all characters, even those who are flawed and have done wrong, encouraging readers to sympathise with saints and those with flaws.
Analysis of Light Between Oceans
Throughout the book, Tom Sherbourne has repeatedly struggled with making the righteous decision.
As a lighthouse keeper, Tom’s job description is very clear–to “report everything [that has happened on the island] straightaway” (Stedman 7). Required to document every meticulous detail, from “the exact minute the light [is] lit” (88), to “the weather, [and] the ships that pass” (88), it should be blatantly obvious that when a significant event such as an infant washing up to the shore of Janus Rock takes place, Tom is supposed to immediately alert the authorities. Under normal circumstances, a dutiful ex-serviceman like Tom would not hesitate to report the situation.
However, real-life situations can hardly be anticipated by those who outline the rulebook, as it is often mingled with its tinge of complications. With two miscarriages and a stillbirth under Isabel’s belt, Tom’s heart bursts with longing, feeling as though he can picture the life they might have had – a happily married couple with a joyful child. The sorrow on Isabel’s face every single time she is reminded of the loss of her own three children and the smile dancing on the corners of her lips now propel Tom to give in to her plea when she expresses her desire to keep the baby.
As a lighthouse keeper, Tom owes the Commonwealth his loyal service, but at the same time, it is important for us to keep in mind that as a loving husband, he also owes his wife a chance at happiness. So, at the expense of conceding his own principles, he grants Isabel’s wish by keeping the child and raising her as his own. We may condemn him for what he has done. We might blame him for his selfishness, for choosing his family over his duties, even though the compromise is made on the premise of fulfilling the happiness of a beloved instead of his own. But I think we would lay to ourselves if we were to say that there is not a small part of us that feels for him.
At the end of the day, we all know that we would combat the same dilemma, should we have to choose between disappointing our loved ones or our obligations, and it is important for such an understanding to withstand in our minds, as we examine the string of chaos that has been erected by his decision. Upon discovering that Hannah, the birth mother of his child is alive, and suffers from the pain of losing her daughter, Tom is thrown back into hot water, where he is confronted by yet another choice to make–should he give the child back to Hannah, her rightful parent, who has already spent years mourning for losing her child, and to whom he owes the truth about the becoming of her daughter?
If he does, he would take the child away from the only life she has ever known–as far as the child is aware, Tom and Isabel are her real parents, and he would tear open Isabel’s old wound of bidding farewell to her treasured daughter, but if he does not, he would leave another mother in excruciating pain–a sentiment he has already seen too often in his wife, that he surely will not wish to see shared by anyone else. It is often believed that if your heart is in the right place, hardly anything could go wrong, but it appears Tom has not escaped the caprice of ethical dilemmas, despite being adamant about doing the right thing.
Tom’s many struggles underscore the moral predicaments undergone by humans, even those with honourable judgements and values, and attest to the elusive boundary between right and wrong.
Stedman, M. L. The Light between Oceans. Penguin, 2018. Print.