Themes are the heart and soul of any literary work. They shape the narrative, evoke emotions, and offer profound insights into the human experience. In the novel “They Both Die at the End,” love takes center stage, revealing its power and complexity through the many relationships portrayed.
The Painful Balancing Act of Love
In this tale of love and loss, we meet Mateo and Rufus, two young boys grappling with the impending end of their lives. Mateo’s love for his parents is overshadowed by the grief of his mother’s death during childbirth and his father’s coma. The pain deepens as he realizes he cannot spend his final moments with his father. Similarly, Rufus carries the burden of survivor’s guilt, mourning the loss of his parents and sister. Living on while his loved ones are gone is a constant reminder of his pain.
Both boys face a difficult dilemma – how to balance their love for their friends. They long to spend their last day with their companions, yet they don’t want to impose the anguish of witnessing their deaths. Mateo, out of his deep love for Lidia, initially hesitates to share the news of his impending death. He fears causing her additional grief. Conversely, Rufus cannot conceal the truth from his friends, Malcolm and Tagoe, as they are there when he receives the fateful call. For Lidia, Malcolm, and Tagoe, being separated from their friends until the end is inconceivable. Ultimately, they all learn that love is worth the pain that comes with loss.
Love’s Transformative Power
Love has the remarkable ability to make us brave, as Mateo discovers when he declares his feelings for Rufus. Mateo has always shied away from emotional risks, but it is his time spent with Rufus that emboldens him to take a leap of faith. While the phone call alerting him of his imminent death served as a catalyst, it is Rufus’s care and support that truly inspire him. Mateo’s declaration of love is not only an act of bravery but also his coming out story. The connection they share and the limited time they have left on earth give Mateo the courage to embrace his true self.
Rufus is drawn to Mateo’s kind and genuine nature. Through their relationship, he finds solace and a chance to let go of his guard, which he has carried since the death of his parents and his breakup with Aimee. Mateo and Rufus both recognize that love has the power to bring out the best versions of themselves, even with the clock ticking against them.
Embracing Life’s Fullness
Mateo and Rufus both struggle to live the lives they truly desire. Mateo’s anxiety cripples him, while Rufus battles with anger stemming from his grief. Paradoxically, the realization that their days are numbered liberates them, allowing them to pursue meaningful experiences and relationships. Mateo learns the importance of living in the present, shedding the burden of reconciling the past and the future versions of himself. He takes bold risks, engaging in activities he previously feared, such as dancing, karaoke, and expressing his love for Rufus.
Similarly, Rufus comes to understand that love carries with it the pain of loss. After losing his family, he drowns himself in anger and pain, which strains his relationship with Aimee. Losing her love only intensifies his sense of anger and self-doubt, culminating in a regrettable decision to engage in violence. Yet, being with Mateo opens Rufus’s eyes to the realization that regardless of the time they have left, life is more meaningful with love in it. He finally accepts that the threat of losing love does not outweigh its significance in leading a full life.
The Significance of Every Life
Mateo introduces the idea that every life holds significance as he explores CountDowners on a social media app. This platform offers a glimpse into the fears and values of people on their last day. Mateo believes in the importance of paying attention to every life, even those of animals. His philosophy influences his actions throughout his final day. We witness his compassion when he stops to bury a bird on the street. Furthermore, a thought-provoking debate with Rufus about giving money to a homeless man illuminates Mateo’s unique ability to see the worth in all individuals. Despite past negative experiences resulting from his generosity, Mateo’s positive view of humanity remains unchanged.
Conversely, Rufus struggles with the idea that his own life carries meaning due to his survivor’s guilt. He questions why he alone survived the car accident that claimed the lives of his family members, often channeling his guilt into self-destructive behavior. However, experiencing Mateo’s compassion and love allows Rufus to see himself through his friend’s eyes. Mateo helps him realize that he is worthy of love and happiness, regardless of his past.
In “They Both Die at the End,” every page is a testament to the power, complexity, and transformative nature of love. Mateo and Rufus, through their intertwined journey, teach us that love can make us brave, help us embrace the present, and grant us the courage to lead a fuller life. Their story reminds us that each and every life holds significance, and that love is a force capable of healing and transcending even the most painful of circumstances.