Death- In A Monster Calls, death plays a huge factor to the story. Conor’s mother is slowly dying of caner. Despite both her and Conor’s hope and even belief that she will get well, she continues to grow worse. Even in his denial, deep down Conor knows his mother is going to die. This is why the monster comes walking. The monster is a yew tree, which is a tree with healing properties. This symbolizes that he has come to heal Conor. He has come to help Conor face the truth and cope with his mother’s death. To put it another way, A site entitled A Monster Calls Theme of Death, states that, “…Conor learns that while he can’t avoid death and loss, he can learn to cope with them, which is the real truth he’s been searching for.” You can read more about this theme and other themes here.
Loneliness- Conor constantly mentions throughout the book that he hates the way ignore him. They walk on egg shells around him because they do not want to upset him. He feels invisible and isolated because of this. He also feels alone because his mother, his only friend at the time was in the hospital, he did not get along with his grandmother, and his father rarely visited from his home in America. Not to mention he was angry at Lily, so he did not speak to her much, and the only people who seemed to notice him were his school bullies. The monster does help Conor be noticed by helping him fight his main bully, however now he is seen at school in a way he never wanted to be seen.
Suffering- There is plenty of suffering to go around in this book. Obviously Conor, who has a dying mother, an absent father, school bullies, and an annoying grandmother. There is also Conor’s mother who is in a lot of pain from her cancer treatments and is slowly dying. She struggles with explaining her situation to Conor because she does not want him to be heartbroken. There is Conor’s grandmother, whose daughter is dying. There is even Lily, who is trying to get her best friend, whom she misses back. This book tells a sweet tale, but a sad one.
I think it is best to read this book with reader response criticism in mind. while the ending does not leave much up to individual interpretation because it explains exactly what happens, there is a lot of symbolism throughout the story that one could interpret in different ways. For example, think about why the monster told Conor the first tale. I personally believe the purpose of this tale was to get Conor to see his grandmother, and maybe people in general, as not completely bad. People are not so black and white. Everyone has shades of grey if you will. However others believe that the first tale is told to make Conor understand that things are not always what they seem to be at first. Both could be true, and so could many other assumptions. It depends on what the reader takes from the story. For a better understanding of reader response criticism, check out this short video here.