The Knife of Never Letting Go
Patrick Ness
Contributed by Carey Speaks
Themes are described as ideas that dominate a particular piece of literature. In almost all cases, pieces of literature will be centered a theme or a number of them.
Loss of Innocence

This theme represents the transformation from childhood to adulthood. The first chapter presents Todd as a twelve year old looking forward to his thirteenth birthday. As the last boy in the town, he is desperate to become a man (Ness 10). Boys in the story are associated with innocence and lack of knowledge. They are expected to kill another man so that they may become men (Ness 350). The ability to take another person’s life represents a boy’s transition to manhood. Viola kills Aaron to preserve Todd’s innocence but ends up losing her own innocence in the process. Todd tries to comfort her by telling her, “I think maybe everybody falls…” indicating that other people also lose their virtues despite their efforts to preserve it (Ness 367).


This theme can be seen throughout the novel. Todd made a choice not to kill Aaron despite the numerous chances that he was presented with his anger towards him. The eighth chapter of the book is titled “The Choices of a Knife” indicating the initial choice that Todd had to make regarding whether he would kill Aaron with his knife or let him go (Ness 66-67). The nineteenth chapter also shows the decision that Todd had to make based on whether or not to use his knife when confronted with Matthew. Instead of killing Matthew with the knife, he uses it to cut the rope that is holding the silage rolls (Ness 159). Ben and Cillian made a choice to remain in Prentisstown to protect Todd even though they had an opportunity to run away before the death of Mayor Jessica (Ness 309). Dr. Snow also made a choice to let Todd, Ben, and Viola run even though he suspected that they were spies sent by the army (Ness 301).

Loss and Death

The first chapter reveals the death of Todd’s parents before he was born and that of other settlers. “My pa died of sickness before I was born and then my ma died…” (Ness 13). Although Todd reveals in the first chapter that all the women were killed by the Spackles he is later informed that the men in Prentisstown were actually behind the killing of the Spacks and the women (Ness 309). Foley describes the content in this novel as being brutal, violent, frightening, and resembling the ruthlessness of colonialism especially regarding the killing of the Spacks (Joanne 21). Viola also lost her parents when her ship crashed in the swamp, leaving her with the feeling of loss and emptiness (Ness 72). This theme can also be seen through the fire and killings that took place in Farbranch and the mayor’s determination to destroy the other settlements that his army came across. Todd felt tremendous loss when Aaron killed Manchee and woke up thinking about his dog after being treated by Dr. Snow (Ness 272, 277).

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