Study Guide

Cutting for Stone What's Up With the Epigraph?

By Abraham Verghese

What's Up With the Epigraph?

What's up with the epigraph?

Cutting for Stone is divided into four parts, each part with its own epigraph… or three. So hold on tight, Shmoopers; time to go epigraph hunting.

Part I:

. . . for the secret of the care of the patient is in caring for the patient. – Francis W. Peabody, October 21, 1925

Might sound like Dr. Peabody got mixed up there, but we think he's playing with the word "care." There's medical care, which can be a little impersonal, and there's caring for someone, which is more intimate. This epigraph means that it's not just book learning, but also genuine love that makes a doctor great.

Part II:

When a pole goes into a hole
it creates another soul
which is either a pole
or a hole —
Newton's Fourth Law of Motion (as taught by the Mighty Senior Sirs of Madras Christian College during the initiation/ragging of A. Ghosh, Junior Pisser Kataan, Batch of 1938, St. Thomas Hall, D Block, Tambaram, Madras)

So, you're smart Shmoopers: we don't have to explain to you that this is a dirty joke. The poem is talking about sex and reproduction, and that's a big part of Part II of the book, which is all about Hema and Ghosh finally falling in love and getting married. They do become parents, of course, though it's not because of any pole-and-hole play: they adopt the twins.

Part III:

I will not cut for stone, even for patients in whom the disease is manifest; I will leave this operation to be performed by practitioners, specialists in this art… — Hippocratic oath

See "What's Up with the Title?" for our discussion of this epigraph!

Theirs is the stoneless fruit of love
Whose love is returned.
– Tiruvalluvar, The Kural

This line from a classical poem written in Tamil, a South Asian language, also talks about stones, just like the Hippocratic oath and the title. In this case, though, the stone refers to the pit of a fruit, like a peach. You know how pesky it is to always be picking the pits out of cherries? Wouldn't it be nice if they were all sweet, squishy goodness with nothing to break your teeth on?

According to this epigraph, loving and being loved in return is the squishy goodness of a seedless fruit. Not sounding romantic to you? Well, it goes along with the theme of stones, so cut an epigraph some slack, will you?

Part IV:

The intellect of man is forced to choose
the perfection of the life, or of the work,
And if it take the second must refuse
A heavenly mansion, raging in the dark.
— William Yeats, "The Choice"

Our buddy Yeats has it figured out. Why work? Live your life, man! This part of the novel is about Marion's coming to terms with Thomas, who left his family and his life behind in order to dedicate himself to the work of being a surgeon. He is extremely successful, but he's all alone. That's why he's given up the "heavenly mansion" in the dark: because he's a workaholic, he has no love and nobody to call his own.