About the Book

Book Protagonist: Noah Calhoun
Publication Date: 1996
Genre: Literary Fiction, Romance

Historical Context

The Notebook

By Nicholas Sparks

'The Notebook' by Nicholas Sparks cuts across many decades with landmark historical events that affect the characters and the plot of the novel.

Nicholas Sparks uses the second world war and socio-economic realities of the 19th Century South of the United States to contextualize the plot and the characters’ actions in ‘The Notebook.’ Let us take a close look at some of the historical events captured in the story and how they impacted and shaped the narrative.

The Second World War (WW2)

The story is set in New Bern, North Carolina, in the post-WW2 period of 1946. WW2 was a major war involving a vast number of the world’s countries on two opposing military alliances—the Allied forces and the Axis Powers. The war lasted between 1939-1945. The major players on the part of the Allied forces were the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, and the United States of America. The Axis Powers were Germany, Japan, and Italy. All of these countries deployed massive human, economic and industrial resources to the war efforts, making WW2 the deadliest conflict in history.

In ‘The Notebook,’ WW2 and the consequent physical and emotional impacts that trailed it are discernible in the tenor of the novel. This impact of the war is readable in both the characters of Noah and Allie, and it can be seen in how they variously try to deal with the trauma of the war. Allie, for example, meets her suitor, Lon, while volunteering during the war. She agrees to be in a relationship with Lon despite not loving him because he is the only young man she knows who is still physically whole at the time of the war.

As to Noah, he gets back from the war and throws himself almost obsessively into the work of rebuilding the old house he had acquired as an escape from his post-war trauma and his battle with being separated from the love of his life. Also, Allie notices with some astonishment that even though Noah had been to the war just like most other men, Noah seemed to be curiously much stronger than other men who had been negatively impacted by the war. There is a general sense of wanting to leave the war and its horrors behind to forge ahead and get normal routine life back on track, but yet the travesties that had gone down during the war are not to be so easily banished from consciousness in the novel.

Classism in the American South

In the setting of ‘The Notebook,’ the Southern states of the United States of America were rife with a tradition of discrimination along gender, racial and economic lines. Class discrimination in the South is an observation that writers have made in many notable works of literature, such as ‘To Kill a Mockingbirdby Harper Lee, ‘Gone with the Windby Margaret Mitchell, and ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, among others. Like other authors writing about the South of the United States, Nicholas Sparks makes this observation about class discrimination in the South, although not as profoundly as the other writers mentioned above.

In ‘The Notebook,’ class discrimination is seen in Allie’s parents’ disapproval of Noah, not because of any vice they see in him, but because they choose not to see anything good about him as he is from a lowly family background. The realities of the time required people to marry only within their social class, and that was why Allie’s parents stood against Allie and Noah’s relationship.

Elderly Care and Nursing Homes in the United States

One of the settings in ‘The Notebook’ by Nicholas Sparks is a nursing home where the protagonist resides with his wife. Nursing homes are residential care centers that cater to old people or other categories of people with special care needs that cannot be met through a home or other community services.

Sparks’ setting of a 1990’s nursing home is historically realistic because nursing homes had become well-established institutions supported by both public and private actors towards the end of the 20th century in the United States. A few decades earlier, it would not be apt to depict a nursing home as a cozy and serene setting with attentive medical and nursing personnel, as seen in ‘The Notebook.’ This is because the version of nursing homes known today began in the not-so-distant past.

The history of nursing homes in the United States can be traced to the concept of almshouses brought to America by English settlers in the 17th century. The almshouses were not just for the elderly but for orphans and the mentally ill. The typical almshouses at the time provided only shelter and daily meals to their residents. This practice continued through to the 20th century. During the Great Depression, living conditions in these almshouses became deplorable because these almshouses were overwhelmed with large numbers of people that had fallen into poverty from the Depression. The almshouses started to receive lots of criticism and public outcry. With this, the almshouses gave way for privately controlled residential homes with better conditions and more specialized care for the elderly.  

By the end of World War II, nursing homes were beginning to thrive in the United States, and they started to get the attention of the government. The government then began the policy process that would make nursing homes public institutions financed by federal and state funds. In 1987, the Nursing Home Act was enacted, giving nursing homes an institutionalized form in the public sector.

Currently, nursing homes are preferably called Skilled Nursing Facilities (SNFs). And these SNFs provide nursing care, dietary needs, environmental maintenance, counseling services, and engagement activities for residents. And nursing homes can be found throughout the United States today.


Is ‘The Notebook‘ a good depiction of Alzheimer’s?

Yes, ‘The Notebook‘ by Nicholas Sparks has a good depiction of Alzheimer’s disease. The novel describes the disease fairly accurately. In the character of Dr Barnwell’s words, it is ”a degenerative brain disorder affecting memory and personality”. It also depicts some symptoms of the disease, as seen in Allie, and captures some of the psychological effects of the disease on a victim’s family and loved ones, as seen in Noah.

What is the association of ‘The Notebook‘ characters with war?

The Notebook‘ by Nicholas Sparks does not focus on war. However, the characters are affected by war because they witnessed a war. The lead character Noah fought as a soldier in World War 2, and the heroine, Allie, served and nursed wounded soldiers in the same war.

Is ‘The Notebook‘ historically accurate?

Yes, ‘The Notebook‘ by Nicholas Sparks is accurate in its depiction of the obtainable realities of its context and setting.

Israel Njoku
About Israel Njoku
Israel has a Bachelor's degree in Mass Communication. He loves entertainment, pop-culture and the arts and tries to extract themes with wider reaching implications from them through rigorous analysis.
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