One critic may believe that the essential clash in the novel is between the scientific and religious approach to life. This is easily said considering the lifestyles of the main two characters, the way in which they conflict with each other, and this being what the story seems to revolve around. Jed's life is perhaps more extreme than a typical approach to life, his life revolves on his take on religion and what he believed God would want, but it is not based around any kind of organised religion, as might be typical. He is very extreme in what he believes, as he will even resort to violence for his spiritual belief. Perhaps Jed's believes are not at all typical, and are more brought on by his unhealthy mental state? Joe's approach to life is a scientific one, and he is not really extreme. He is an atheist, and he writes about what he believes for a living, but we get the impression he would not let his believes lead to violence. His believes are not the centre of his life, unlike Jed's, and he comes across as fairly level headed, and certainly mentally stable.
However there is far more going in the novel, on than just this clash between a scientific and spiritual approach to life. Tragedy, trust and morality are all key themes that Ian Mc Ewan presents to us. We witness the breakdown of Joe and Clarissa's relationship and the near suicide of Parry. We see Joe lose all of the confidence and trust in himself he once had. The clash between a scientific and spiritual approach to life is a consistent theme throughout the novel, but along with it are other issues, which the author wishes us to address.
It could be said that the first chapter of the book is very important when considering the rest of the book. It is in this chapter that the drama begins, as we see a picnic on a sunny day turn into a life or death struggle with the elements. Mc Ewan's dramatic switch, the transformation of the scene, is extremely effective in creating tension and encouraging us to read further. This is the place where death and random tragedy take a firm place in the novel, and is of course the pivot on which the story turns. The story begins almost like a romance novel, but turns into a thriller. The theme of tragedy has been said to play a big part in the novel, with the ballooning incident being a completely random event that has a destructive effect on the people involved. This relates to the character's behaviour after the event, depending on how scientific or spiritual Jed or Joe are, affects how destructive the event is. This is especially true when we think of Clarissa, for her the event can be seen as a situation which nobody is to blame for, quite different from Joe's opinion.
As the story begins to move on and we see Parry behaving in his unreasonable classic `stalker' fashion, we side with Joe, and the issue of trust becomes important. Our trust in Joe, which we are led to by Mc Ewan's style of writing,...