One Day Themes

David Nicholls (writer)
This Study Guide consists of approximately 20 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of One Day.
This section contains 923 words
(approx. 3 pages at 400 words per page)


Of the three major themes in the novel "One Day" by David Nicholls, the theme of love is the most resounding and dominant. It affects the lives of each of the characters in the novel, especially that of Dexter and Emma, whose entire existence is predicated upon a slowly unfolding lover for each other. Indeed, the entire novel is a love story between Dexter and Emma -though it is a belated love story.

At the beginning of the novel, love doesn't factor into the consciousnesses of either Dexter or Emma. Both believe their one-night stand to be a one-night stand, but both impress the other enough so that one cannot get the other off his or her mind. The nascent romance between Dexter and Emma begins as a casual friendship that grows and grows. Both Dexter and Emma are searching for themselves -and for love- in the novel. Emma believes she may have found love on more than one occasion, including with Ian Whitehead, but only discovers that it is not really love at all. Dexter also searches for love, believing he may have found something in Sylvia Cole, but his assumptions are wrong when Sylvia commits to an affair with Dexter's old college roommate.

Slowly but surely, Emma and Dexter are drawn to one another, to realize each has loved the other all along. The love they share is genuine and lasting. It is evidenced by Emma's care for Dexter when he is down on his luck, and the lengths she goes to to help him get back on his feet. Dexter pushes aside his listless lifestyle in order to settle down with Emma, discovering that she is everything he has been searching for. Further evidence of the bond of love between them is displayed in Dexter's downward spiral following Emma's death. Indeed, Emma mattered so much to Dexter that Dexter's father tells him to live as if Emma were still alive.


Self-discovery is one of the three major themese in the novel "One Day" by David Nicholls. Self-discovery -the process of learning about oneself and growing because of it -occurs primarily with the main characters, Dexter and Emma. The journey of self-discovery they partake in ultimately leads them to love, and to each other.

When the novel begins, Dexter wants to be famous, and his mind is set on purely pleasurable and earthly pursuits, namely girls and alcohol. Rather than launch into finding a career, Dexter travels the globe seeking girls and adventure. He is self-centered and self-absorbed, discouraging traits made only stronger by his meteoric rise to fame on television. The nadir of this narcissism comes when Dexter insults Emma for wanting to be a teacher. Ultimately, Dexter leads to his own downfall. His marriage falls apart, along with his job prospects. But over time, and with Emma's help, Dexter discovers that he can be a wonderful father, and can successfully run a business. Indeed, he becomes proud of himself not for his image, but for the things he can do.

At the beginning of the novel, Emma is a passionate girl who dreams big and wants to change the world. Despite her wild dreams, Emma is shy and self-confident. Indeed, she appears to be her own worst enemy as she believes her life is a failure for having done nothing of consequence one year out of college. She discovers, over time, that she has a talent for writing, and begins to do so. It is a talent that Dexter encourages, helping her to gain self-confidence. Emma becomes a stronger and more independent person, but also warms up tremendously toward others. Despite her conceptions of herself as a failure, she does manage to change the world -Dexter's world- and the lives of countless young adults and children who read her novels.


Of the three major themes in the novel "One Day" by David Nicholls, friendship provides a running undercurrent that pulls together the characters of Emma and Dexter throughout the novel, paving the way for the themes of self-discovery and love.

The one-night stand that Dexter and Emma have is supposed to be just that- a one-night stand. Yet, the night brings together not just their hearts, but their minds as well, as neither one is able to forget the other. Dexter gives Emma his phone number, and impresses upon her his desire to have her call him. Phone calls and letters begin a friendship in earnest, as both Dexter and Emma come to rely on the other for advice and suggestions, as well as a welcome set of arms for consolation and encouragement. As their friendship flourishes, real romance also stirs in both their hearts. Regrettably, over the course of two decades, Dexter and Emma can never seem to be in the same place with respect to that romance, and so their friendship carries on.

Interestingly enough, their friendship serves as a gateway to love, and for both characters to discover who they really are -each other. Indeed, it is the friendship between both of them that compels them to remain in touch with one another, even when all of their other friends have fallen away, grown old, or turned on them. That the foundation of Dexter and Emma's relationship is their friendship reinforces their romance, for Emma and Dexter are completely aware of who the other is, and there are no surprises. The foundation of friendship therefore means that love falls more easily into place, and is stronger than it might otherwise have been.

This section contains 923 words
(approx. 3 pages at 400 words per page)
One Day from BookRags. (c)2017 BookRags, Inc. All rights reserved.
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