Study Guide

The Forest of Hands and Teeth Love

By Carrie Ryan

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Marriage in our village is not about love—it is about commitment. (1.18)

Commitment without love is possible. So is love without commitment—or is it?

I don't know how to make him understand that sometimes love and devotion can overpower a person to the point where she wants to join her spouse in the Forest. Even if it means throwing everything else in life away. (3.33)

Perhaps Mary's mom's actions are a selfless move, showing extreme love and devotion for her spouse. But perhaps they are a selfish move, choosing love for her dead spouse over love for her living children. It's also totally possible they are just an accident.

I know I'm in love with Travis at these moments. I can feel the way that I ache to make him whole again. How if I could drain out my own life and share it with him to make him better I would not hesitate to do so. (5.31)

This sounds similar to Mary's mother—she was willing to drain out her own life to seek out her husband among the Unconsecrated. Ironically, in the end it's Travis who sacrifices his life to make Mary's better, not the other way around.

This is how I know I can never be a true servant of God, why I will never be able to give myself over to the Sisters. Because I love Travis too much to set him aside. (5.33)

You sure, Mary? She loves him too much to give him up for the Sisterhood… She loves him too much to give him up for God… But she doesn't love him too much to give him up for the ocean. Mary, Mary, quite contrary…

"You think you want love, Mary. You think it is this beautiful gift that does nothing but fill you and make you whole. But you are wrong. Love can be cruel and ugly. It can become dark and cause the deepest pain. Just look at what it has done to your parents." (8.37)

Sister Tabitha makes a mighty good point here. Love ultimately turns both of Mary's parents into zombies, it leaves Mary miserable with Harry, and it leads to Travis's demise. Love ain't always a holding-hands-and-skipping feeling.

I know I am asking him to betray his brother, to upset the balance of the village, and hurt my best friend. But none of that matters to me anymore. I am willing to throw it all away for him. (10.64)

Based on her future actions, are Mary's feelings here the result of true love, or just the wacky result of too much love potion?

"Pray to God, Mary." She continues, "Pray that He will bring you mercy and that He will give you a child, a way to love outside yourself." (13.16)

In Sister T's view, life is about living selflessly. Even though she's kind of a power-hungry despot, she thinks she's doing everything for the good of the community as head of a government that sponsors not love, but commitment to survival. So of course she would recommend child-bearing—it's the ultimate form of commitment and selflessness, which to Sister Tabitha is what love is all about. Interesting that she had no children of her own.

"The Sisterhood has it wrong," he says. "It's not about survival. It should be about love. When you know love… that's what makes this life worth it. When you live with it every day. Wake up with it, hold on to it during the thunder and after a nightmare. When love is your refuge from the death that surrounds us all and when it fills you so tight that you can't express it." (17.65)

Jed is one of the lucky few that finds their soul mate, despite all the rules of the village. Mary ain't so lucky, and neither are Cass, Travis, or Harry. Tough year, that one.

I have taken to spending most of my time up on the porch on the third floor, a place where Travis can't reach me because of his leg. I don't know what he does all day as I sit on the edge of the wooden boards, my legs dangling our in the air over the Unconsecrated below. (24.1)

These are the words and actions of a girl in love? Um… that's weird. Just sayin'.

I wonder, now, if she didn't leave because of us. Because of Jed and me. But in my heart I know that's not the case. She didn't leave in search of the ocean because of my father. Because he was enough for her. Enough to keep her snug within the fences her entire life. (25.60)

This inspires some think-time about Mommy Dearest. She stayed happy in the village because she had her man, and she was willing to go Unconsecrated if it meant she could be with him again. That means that Mary's ideas here are spot-on. If it were about Jed and Mary, Mom wouldn't be scratching at the other side of the fence, that's for sure.

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