The passage is about the effect love has on people, more specifically the effect Louise has on the narrator. This passage is also about risk, “who leaves the hearth for the open sea?” (81). Their love shouldn’t make sense, it started as an affair and turned into something beautiful despite being against all odds: “especially without a compass, especially in the winter, especially alone”(81).
The repetition of home and hearth is significant. The narrator finally found a love that feels like home, a place where they belong. This feeling served as an anchor in their life, “love it was that drove them forth. Love that brought them home again” (81). It allows exploration of each other and the world, and returns them to a place that feels familiar and comfortable. Love healed them. It made them feel invincible, “love hardened their hands against the oar”(81).
“What you risk reveals what you value”(81) is an anomaly. It seems contradicting because wouldn’t you want to protect what you value? This is about courage though, not protection. Have the courage to put it all on the line. Risk to discover something beautiful, something consuming. “In the presence of love, hearth and quest become one” (81) indicates this love is exciting and unknown but it’s also easy and natural. Hearth and quest are opposing words, but being in love wraps them into one.
In this passage, repetition of the sea is seen as it is throughout the novel. The sea mimics the phenomenon of love. It is strange, unknown, and breeds curiosity. The cluster of exploration words such as journey, quest, the open sea, and compass is significant in this passage and the novel in general. The narrator has “explored” many lovers with a wide variety of personalities to find this particular feeling expressed in the passage.