The Seven Storey Mountain Themes

This Study Guide consists of approximately 29 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of The Seven Storey Mountain.
This section contains 614 words
(approx. 2 pages at 400 words per page)

Solitude/Contemplation/Simplicity

These seem to be the facets of monastic life that are most appealing to Merton. They are also the characteristics of his life when he finds himself most happy. Merton seems to have enjoyed the secluded setting of St. Antonin, France. In college, he enjoyed escaping to the cottage at Olean, which turned out to be a sort-of makeshift monastery for him and his friends. Eventually, Merton found his home among the cloisters of a community of men who take vows of silence. Clearly Merton doesn't need prattle and pleasures. Even when in New York, one of the most crowded and loud places on the planet, Merton describes times of relative solitude alone in his room or on the balcony of his apartment with thousands of people nearby but no one physically present with him.

Solitude and simplicity also tend to be the traits or practices Merton finds most attractive in others—his father and his fellow writer friends, for example.

Merton's father seems to have been a man of few words and, as noted above, he had the most profound influence on his son's life. The two lived together for several years, but one gets the impression that even the time spent under the same roof included long stretches of silence or solitude for both men, especially since Owen needed those elements in order to paint. Plus, the subjects of his paintings—landscapes—allowed for long hours of solitude outdoors.

One of the friends of whom Merton speaks most favorably is Bob Lax, who is introduced thus: "He had a mind naturally disposed, from the very cradle, to a kind of affinity for Job and St. John of the Cross. And I now know that he was born so much of a contemplative that he will probably never be able to find out how much".

Starting Over

Merton has to start over twice to learn new languages in school—at the Lyce√© for French and at Oakham for Latin. These experiences may have been both disheartening and character-building. Perhaps it was the experience of sitting in classes with much younger boys that afforded Merton the ability to leave behind self-conscious fears later in life.

Twice Merton has to work up the courage to apply to the priesthood. In fact, the second of these approaches forms the climax of the story, when Merton is finally accepted at Gethsemani and enters the monastic life to which, the reader becomes thoroughly convinced, he was always called.

Merton acknowledges these patterns of starting over in the book with reference to re-starting his climb up the seven-circled mountain of purgatory which he uses as symbolism for his growth out of a life of sin and selfishness.

Death

Sadly, Merton's story includes the death of almost every relative mentioned: his mother, his father, his brother, his grandparents, and his aunt. Of course, it's only natural that a man outlive his parents and grandparents, but the deaths of all three members of his immediate family come prematurely, at tragic ages.

Interestingly, these events never seem to embitter or harden Merton. He doesn't bemoan the unfairness of life or even take occasion to wax eloquent about life and death (he's more apt to engage in this when reviewing day-to-day activities). Instead, each death seems to lead Merton deeper into himself and his faith.

Possibly because of his familiarity with death, or its presence in his life since the time of his childhood, but for some reason, Merton seems not altogether uncomfortable with death.

Notably, it's a vision of Merton's dead father that provides one of the first impulses for him to pursue faith.

This section contains 614 words
(approx. 2 pages at 400 words per page)
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