The House of God Themes

Samuel Shem
This Study Guide consists of approximately 36 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of The House of God.
This section contains 857 words
(approx. 3 pages at 400 words per page)

Coming of Age

While Roy is an adult, he is coming of age in the world of medicine. He starts out anxious and afraid of what he's facing and he doesn't know much about the world of medicine, despite his earlier training. He comes to learn a lot of unorthodox ways of dealing with patients and learns the rules of the House of God. He learns through dealing with patients and through the Fat Man, who gives him pearls of wisdom along the way. The story teaches us the coming of age theme through examples of how Roy begins to learn and be more competent with each and every patient he comes across. At times, he feels beaten but he perseveres throughout the reading of the book. Throughout, he becomes more cynical yet increases his competency as he works his way through the hellish nightmare that is his internship. Others cope, too, but a couple do not, especially Potts, who doesn't survive at all. Roy learns about the hierarchy of the House of God and how he fits in with the others who work and live there. Roy definitely comes of age by the time the book is over but he is left disillusioned with medicine and doesn't want to continue in Internal Medicine. It's as though he came of age but didn't like how he turned out and he just wants to get away.

Love Relationships

Berry is his girlfriend through out the book and he asks her to marry him at the end. She sticks by him even when he's never around, when he's acting crazy or cheats on her with Molly. Berry worries about Roy through much of the internship but can't seem to get through to him. Still, theirs is a relationship that survives when no one else's relationship survives. They had acronyms, MOR and ROR, standing for "Marriage on Rocks" and "Relationship on Rocks", respectively. It seemed as though every other intern there has their relationships destroyed by the trauma of being interns at the House of God. Berry, on the other hand, is different. She's willing to put up with Roy's craziness and even his infidelity in order to stick by him and stay in a relationship with Roy. Berry is different. She accepts Roy for who he is and for what's going on with him, no matter what.

Death and Dying

Roy faces death and dying on many levels in this book. He deals with the deaths of his patients, some of whom are dying as their doctors have made mistakes with their care. He deals with the death of his colleague who commits suicide. He becomes, at one point, afraid of his own mortality and takes up a healthy lifestyle. Roy, overall, doesn't deal with death head-on and refuses to think about it. The one time he thinks clearly about it is when he overtly kills one of his own patients in an act of mercy. All of the residents and interns deal with death differently. Some, like Hyper Hooper, see death as a means of getting a postmortem evaluation. Others, upon the death of patients who they attributed themselves to killing (like Potts), cannot cope and commit suicide. It is said early on in the book that "Gomers don't die" but, in fact, they do throughout the book, albeit very rarely. Roy learns early that it's the young people who die the most, and it goes against what he's been taught in life. By the end of the book, Roy is indifferent to death and feels blunted to the idea of death.

Coping

Everyone in the House of God is in a position of having to cope. They use drugs, alcohol, repression, guilt and self-sacrifice to cope with all of the death and horror they see there. Roy copes differently at different times. He uses cynicism and humor at times. He gets drunk at times in order to cope, and he sometimes just loses it and gets angry. One of the interns goes psychotic and needs to leave for a while. Potts seems never to be able to cope and eventually commits suicide. All of them use sex to cope in one way or another. In fact, much of what goes on in this book is coping in some form or another. Even Jo and the other higher ups hide themselves in their medicine and in meticulous ways of doing things in order not to see the horrors of the totality of what is going on. It's as though Jo and the higher ups don't see the whole picture but instead see the patient as the sum of its parts. That way they don't have to mourn when they die or something goes wrong with a patient. Berry helps Roy cope just by being there for him to talk to. Roy might not have done as well as he did without the help of Berry, who was always worried and stood by him. The Fat Man copes through his use of humor, the Laws of the House of God and his own quest for fame and money.

This section contains 857 words
(approx. 3 pages at 400 words per page)
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