Mountains Beyond Mountains Literary Elements

Mountains Beyond Mountains Literary Elements


Postcolonial nonfiction.

Setting and Context

Haiti, the United States, Peru and Russia between 1982 and 2003

Narrator and Point of View

First person by the author, Tracy Kidder

Tone and Mood

While the author’s tone presents events in a realistic, straightforward manner, those events are disturbing enough to create an almost oppressively dark mood that is somewhat redeemed by an optimistic ending.

Protagonist and Antagonist

The protagonist is Dr. Paul Farmer, anthropologist, humanitarian, liberation theologian and self-sacrificing physician. The antagonist is the system that fosters and reproduces a repetitive and endless cycle of poverty, disease and obstacles to providing health care to those most in need.

Major Conflict

The primary conflict at play is that between the cost of providing efficient medical care to the most impoverished patients in Haiti versus the value of a single life that could be saved by investing in that medical care.


The tragic conclusion to the long and arduous effort to transport a young cancer patient from Haiti to Boston in an attempt to get him the best medical treatment available in the hope of saving his life.


Kidder’s recounting of his first meeting with Paul Farmer in Haiti in 1994 as American soldiers on peacekeeping mission trying to protect a recently installed democratic government while being overwhelmingly outnumbered by soldiers supporting the previously ruling despotic junta serves to foreshadow Farmer’s attempts to provide health care while outnumbered by an overwhelming number of obstacles.


The presence of voodoo and its relationship to Christianity and Farmer’s only version of liberation theology is felt throughout the scenes taking place in Haiti, but it is presented in a understated way that successfully avoid becoming a stereotype of about Haiti.


Kidder makes allusions to Lord of the Rings at several points to draw parallels between the quest of the character in that fantasy novel and the fantastic quest of Farmer’s to essentially cure the entire planet.


Dr. Paul Farmer is constantly referred to in imagery associated with sainthood, but the single strongest representation of this imagery occurs in the description outside plainly dressed doctor walking through the streets populated by enormous throngs of the sick and injured, conjuring up images of Jesus walking among the lepers.


Raised in the Catholic Church, Farmer’s approach to life is one that embraces and demands that he live by the doctrinal concepts of Catholicism despite the fact that he has rejected the very foundation of Catholicism as a religion.



Metonymy and Synecdoche



The constant reference to Dr. Farmer’s saintliness and self-sacrifice for the good of others ultimately has the effect of making him alone seem the personification of goodness of his deeds.

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