A major theme in the book is people's hopes and dreams as sources of the motivation they need to succeed. Hope is each character's central motive for action. As Dolores tells her son, Juan, to return to Comala, she hopes that he will find his father and get what he deserves after all of these years. Despair is the other main theme in the novel. Each character's hopes lead to despair since none of their attempts to attain their goals are successful.
Juan goes to Comala instilled with the hope that he will meet and finally get to know his father. He fails to accomplish this and dies fearful, having lost all hope.
Pedro hopes that Susana San Juan will return to him after so long. He was infatuated with her as a young boy and recalls flying kites with her in his youth. When she finally returns to him, she has gone mad and behaves as though her first husband were still alive. Nevertheless, Pedro hopes that she will eventually come to love him. Dorotea says that Pedro truly loved Susana and wanted nothing but the best for her.
Father Rentería lives in hope that he will someday be able to fully fulfill his vows as a Catholic priest and tell Pedro that his son will not go to heaven instead of pardoning him for his sins in exchange for a lump of gold because he is too poor to survive otherwise.
Ghosts and the ethereal nature of the truth are also recurrent themes in the text. When Juan arrives in Comala it is a ghost town, yet this is only gradually revealed to the reader. For example, in an episode with Damiana Cisneros, Juan talks to her believing that she is alive. They walk through the town together until he becomes suspicious as to how she knew that he was in town, and he nervously asks, “Damiana Cisneros, are you alive?” This encounter shows the truth as fleeting, always changing, and impossible to pin down. It is difficult to truly know who is dead and who is alive in Comala.
Sometimes the order and nature of events that occur in the work are not as they first seem. For example, midway through the book, the original chronology is subverted when the reader finds out that much of what has preceded was a flashback to an earlier time.