In his previous works, Douglas Coupland explores popular themes such as love, life, culture and death. In “Hey Nostradamus!” Coupland introduces an uncommon theme in the name of faith and spirituality. Faith is an overarching theme that not only defines the story but also seems to largely influence the lives of the characters therein. Coupland explores the concept of faith from four different angles, and in doing so he utilizes each of the four major characters therein.
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Each of the four characters mirrors a unique perspective of faith. Suffice to say that faith is a major tool through which Coupland differentiates the characters. While Coupland uses Cheryl, Jason, Allison, Heather and Reg to bring into the novel a four unique viewpoints on faith and spirituality, such a diverse exploration of faith helps the reader to gain a deeper understanding of who the characters are.
Suffice to state that Coupland attempts to differentiate faith and religion, and in doing so demonstrates how an individual’s perspective of faith and spirituality is influenced not only by religious affiliations but also by major life occurrences. Coupland, through Cheryl, Jason, Allison, Heather and Reg tests an individual’s beliefs against real life occurrences; in doing so, he manages to draw difference between theoretical and practical faith as well as define each character based on his or her spirituality.
Even though Jason and Cheryl are primarily used to develop the theme of love and the perils of modern day couples, there are notable religious cues deeply underlying in their secretive relationship. Jason and Cheryl secretly gets married not for the love they have for each other but to avoid sinning. By sinning, Coupland refers to fornication (Shaffer, O’Donnell and Madden, 2011); Jason and Cheryl wants to enjoy the pleasures of sex without sinning thus the secret marriage.
This implies that Jason strong faith, while having a strong influence on his wife Cheryl’s spirituality, also influences major decisions in their married life, especially regarding romance and sex. Jason and Cheryl’s marriage further demonstrates not only the spiritual struggles of modern day youth but the perils of trying to come to terms with ones spirituality in the face of real life challenges.
Cheryl is the final casualty in Coupland’s fictional school shooting scene that depicts the moral depravity of modern day societies that, other than struggling with the whole concept of spirituality, devalues human life. To remain married to Jason, Cheryl goes through a spiritual metamorphosis. While she is initially presented as lady devoid of faith, she converts to Christianity, a faith that she holds to even in times of adversity. Thus, faith changes Cheryl from an unbeliever to a deeply religious person.
It is imperative to state that Cheryl is unlike her friends in the Youth Alive group who portray superficial spirituality. Cheryl demonstrates genuine devotion to her new found faith during her moment of death by noting that while she “may have looked like just another stupid teenage girl, God” had always been there in her life (Coupland, 2004).
This portrays Cheryl’s strong connection with God; she later through prayers, connect the readers to life after death, and as such becoming an angelic figure. The Christian faith therefore turns Cheryl into an angel in the eyes of many.
Jason can be treated like Cheryl’s spiritual savior; he introduces her to Christianity, in which she not only finds the true meaning of life but also the meaning of the afterlife. Despite his heroic acts, in delivering Cheryl from her spiritual wilderness and killing one of the rampant killers, Jason is largely perceived as a villain and at some point is accused of causing Cheryl’s death. Additionally, unlike Cheryl who talks elaborately of her personal relationship with God, Jason depicts faith and spirituality from the eyes of other people and how other people’s beliefs impact his life.
Despite being the cause of Cheryl’s spiritual birth, Jason comes across as an un-religious person. This is mostly portrayed through his deep seated anger against life and what it has offered him; Jason imbibes too much alcohol to escape from his pain. Meanwhile, Jason’s relationship with religion can be seen through his relationship with his father, an almost fanatical Christian fundamentalist. Jason’s seemingly strong religious perceptions seem to not only be influenced by his father’s religious fanatism but also his father’s harsh judgment of him.
According to Tate (2008) Reg, Jason’s father is too critical of Jason and never seems to see anything good in his son; he sees Jason as an unforgivable murderer. This is despite the fact that Jason’s action, which resulted in the death of one of the rioters, saved numerous lives (McCampbell, 2009). As such, Reg strong religious convictions portray Jason as an evil person, Jason’s good intentions notwithstanding.
Reg’s strong criticism of Jason throws Jason into a spiritual abyss, in which he almost losses senses of his spirituality. Nevertheless, Greenberg (2008) argues that Reg’s rather strong religious convictions seem to influence Jason’s decision making. Greenberg’s (2008) assertions seem to resonate well with the fact that Reg harshly criticizes Jason of murder, despite the court’s innocent verdict.
He redeems himself not only from his spiritual wonderland but also in the face of his father, when chooses not to kill in self-protection when another opportunity to do so is presented to him. Through this, Coupland demonstrates that not only does faith save Jason from his spiritual wilderness as well as from his father critical judgment of him but also Jason’s struggles in maintaining his faith amid a harsh and unforgiving social setup.
Reg seems not only to be Coupland’s template on which strict religious norms are established but is also a symbol of evil. Reg’s rigid beliefs seem to be borrowed from his father’s moral strictness. Reg later turns such strict morality into a narrow Christian fundamentalism. While Reg’s strong religious beliefs are aimed at making him into a flawless character, religious extremism instead turns him into a cruel evil like person (Knight and Woodman, 2006).
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Such cruelty is depicted in not only his harsh criticism of his son, but also in his abandonment of his family. Coupland portrayal of Reg as a symbol of evil is in itself an element of faith, such that he not only helps the reader explore the world of destructive supernatural powers, but also portrays the catastrophic effects of lack of religious realism.
Through Reg, Coupland demonstrates the difference between theoretical and practical faith as well as the inability to harmonize ones spirituality with the prevailing harsh realities of life. Reg undergoes moments of spiritual torment, especially after the loss of his two sons. Reg almost blames his strong and rather unrealistic religious beliefs for the loss. Such a loss becomes Reg’s spiritual reawakening, to the extent that he softens his religious strictness.
This culminates in Reg’s confession of his spiritual weaknesses, which is reflected in his assertions that: “You might ask me whether I still believe in God; I do, and maybe not even in the best sense of the word ‘believe’” (Coupland, 2004).
Perhaps the most unchristian perspective of faith is reflected through Heather, Jason’s romantic partner after the death of Cheryl. Heather’s apparent connection to psychic powers is not portrayed as her own spiritual belief but as a result of the influence of her friend Allison. Allison, another symbol of evil power, depicts her psychic powers by claiming to communicate spiritually with the absent Jason. Allison’s psychicism is in itself a portrayal a form of spirituality previously undefined within the realms of convectional religion.
Knight and Woodman (2006) assert that “Allison’s behavior, especially when relating to Heather, is completely void of any religious cues”. Regardless of this, Greenberg (2008) asserts that Allison’s ability to communicate with people through psychic powers is itself an action of faith and belief in the existence of supernatural powers. This implies that Coupland uses Allison to demonstrate the difference between faith and religion.
Like the relationship between Jason and Cheryl, Coupland uses the relationship between Heather and Allison to demonstrate how faith can change an individual’s attributes as well as influence change within a person’s view of life. Initially Heather is a faithless character, and is particularly against Reg’s fundamental Christian beliefs. However, events in her life, especially the loss of Jason as well as her encounter with Allison changes her perspective of faith, which makes her to consider Reg’s adopted liberal Christian beliefs.
Most importantly, Heather’s relationship with Allison portrays Heathers spiritual struggles not only to accept the loss of Jason, but also in accepting Allison’s faith in psychic powers. Heather does not seem to fully accept Allison’s faith, which culminates in her opening up to Reg and his significantly softened religious beliefs. As such it can be argued that, Allison was not only the gap between Reg and Heather but also between Heather and the discovery of faith.
The introduction of faith and spirituality as a theme in “Hey Nostradamus!” brings into the novel a new twist, in which Coupland explores important issues of life, human relationships as well as develop the characters. It is evident that Couplnd ties faith to the characters such that each of them portrays a different perspective of faith. From Christian fundamentalism portrayed by Reg to conniving psychic powers portrayed by Allison, Coupland explores different manifestations of faith, as well as what faith means to each individual.
To Cheryl, faith is a way of life away from the tribulation of every day life. Jason on the other hand sees faith from others peoples perspective and as such, faith lacks any personal sense; nevertheless it influences major decisions in his life. The most important element of faith is that it is used to mirror different characters as well as how each of them builds or destroys others.
For instance, Reg’s strictness, while destroy his son’s life, its meaninglessness can also be seen as the reason for his religious transformation. Thus the exploration of concept of faith has far reaching effects on the characters as not only does it transforms personalities but also influences the development of the story.
Coupland, D. (2004). Hey Nostradamus! Vancouver: Random House of Canada.
Greenberg, L. (2008). Faith at the edge: religion after God in four novels by Douglas Coupland. Retrieved from http://wiredspace.wits.ac.za/bitstream/handle/10539/10459/Louis%20Greenberg%209100531P%20PhD%20-%20FINAL.pdf
Knight, M. and Woodman, T. (2006). Biblical religion and the novel. London: Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.
McCampbell, M. (2009). ‘God is nowhere; god is now here’: The co-existence of hope and evil in Douglas Coupland’s Hey Nostradamus! Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/25679866?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents
Shaffer, B., O’Donnell, P. and Madden, D. (2011). The encyclopedia of twentieth- century fiction. New Jersey: Wiley Publishing.
Tate, A. (2008). Douglas Coupland. Manchester: Manchester University Press.