Theme The theme of PlagueMaker is forgiveness. However, this theme is not revealed until the end, when Li encounters Sato Matsushita. During the entire search for Sato, Donovan knows that Li wants to meet Sato face-to-face. Li gives only this reason, and does not reveal anything else. Knowing what Sato had done to Li's dear wife, Jin, Donovan assumes that Li is out for revenge. He continues to believe this, even when his friendship with Li deepens and it is clear that Li is not out for revenge. However, Donovan does not see this and stays under the impression that Li wants to kill Sato.
Donovan is convinced that he must reach Li before he kills Sato when they are all on Sato's boat. He and Macy race along and find Li and Sato enclosed in Sato's laboratory, which has several plastic doorways to prevent the infected fleas of escaping when one leaves. Li has been telling Sato his story and trying to get him to remember Li's wife, Jin. Right before Donovan had found him, the conversation went:
"Li turned to the black case. His hands were shaking so badly that he could barely remove one of the vials. He twisted the top, and the old wax seal cracked and crumbled into pieces. 'I brought something for you,' Li said. 'Something I brought with me from China; something I have saved for a very long time.' Matsushita took a step back. 'What is it you want from me?' 'Right now, I want you to stand still.'" (p. 360-361) This is when Donovan and Macy reach the doors and Donovan yells at Li; pleads for him not to kill Sato. Donovan thinks that the liquid in the vial will kill Sato, because Li had never let him touch the case or be anywhere near it. And still, Li does not correct Donovan in his thinking. Conversation between Li, Sato, Donovan, and Macy starts up, and then the unexpected happens.
"When Donovan reached for the second zipper, Matsushita lunged forward and grabbed the shell (this is one of the firework shells which contains the infected fleas) from Li's hands. He pulled hard on the ceramic tip, rocking it off the table and onto the floor. It landed nose-first, shattering into a dozen gleaming white shards, and a mound of pepper-gray powder poured our from inside." Li responds to the situation with is normal dry humor saying, "'Well, now,' Li said, staring at the pile around their feet, 'I really didn't anticipate this.'"(p. 363) Li goes to explain to Donovan and Macy (who are safely behind the plastic) Sato's Fourth of July plan. Li resumes talking to Sato, as if the fleas had never been released. Donovan pulls his gun, threatening to kill Li if Li tried to kill Sato with the liquid in the vial. Li does not falter the least, and says a curious thing, "'I must do what I came to do,' Li said, 'and you must do what you must.'" (p. 364) Then Li wisely tells Donovan, "'...but perhaps I should take this opportunity to point out that if you shoot me, you will also poke a hole through this plastic barrier--and the two of you are hardly dressed for the occasion.'" (p. 364) Li and Macy suit up as fast as they can as Li resumes his story once again. The events following are best told the way Tim Downs tells it:

"Donovan and Macy were almost suited up now. Macy's skin was dry and clammy; when she pulled the hood and mask down over her face, she felt as if all air had left the room and the walls were beginning to close in on her. She only had the zipper halfway up when Donovan grabbed her by the arm. 'Come on!' he shouted, opening the plastic barrier. Li stood directly in front of Matsushita now. He raised the glass vial to eye level and spoke slowly and solemnly. --now comes the climax-- 'Sato Matsushita,' he said. 'Freely I have received; freely I give. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost--I forgive you.' He brought the vial down quickly in a diagonal, slashing motion, and the clear fluid splashed across Matsushita's face and chest. The old man staggered back, sputtering. Macy and Donovan stood frozen, waiting--but nothing happened. 'It didn't work!' Donovan said. --here Li's characteristic humor comes in, even though it is a stressful scene-- 'What ever do you mean?' Li said indignantly. 'It worked perfectly.' 'Maybe it lost its potency.' 'How does water lose its potency?' 'It was water?' 'I suppose holy water does have a certain potency, but I'm unaware of any expiration date.' --is this not funny, or what?-- 'Holy water?' 'Yes--from a certain well near the village of Congshan.'" (p. 366)

Macy then passes out and the fact that she did not finish zippering her suit is seen. Donovan rushes her out of the room and takes her to the stairs, she wakes up and he tells her to go to the top deck. He then goes back to Li, but Matsushita is nowhere in sight. In Donovan and Li's final conversation, because Li is infected, Li talks about forgiveness.
"'Now, Nathan. Suppose I told you from the beginning, 'Please let me come along--I wish to forgive him.' What would you have said?' 'I would have said, 'Stay home and forgive him. You don't need to come along for that.'' 'Precisely. The only reason you allowed me to come along is because you thought I wished to kill him--because you thought I needed to get my hands physically around his throat.' --ahh, now we see why Li never corrected Donovan in his thinking!-- 'But, Li--why did you need to come along? If all you wanted to do was forgive him, why didn't you just let it go? Why all this trouble? Why all the risk?' 'Forgiveness is a serious business, Nathan--forgiveness is the business of life. There is enormous power in forgiveness--but for that power to be experienced, forgiveness must be expressed. Forgiveness is a transfer of title; it's a canceling of debt--it's infinitely more than a simple change of heart.'" (p. 370)
Li continues on with this conversation, especially how Donovan needs to seek forgiveness from his ex-wife, and then the two part, Li going to Sato and Donovan going to Macy.

The way the story begins, there is not even an inkling that the theme could be forgiveness, but as the story line progresses and the reader is exposed more and more to the character of Li, forgiveness becomes more evident in the characters' lives. Li seeks out Sato to forgive him, and in the end, we see the Donovan realizes that he needs to seek out Macy's forgiveness for his past actions.

"He (Donovan) pried each of the bottles from the foam packaging and slid the case aside. 'Li said this is what I came here for--he said this is what I needed. He was right, Macy. Is it possible--do you think--could you ever find a way to forgive me?' She took the two jars from his hands. 'What exactly is this?' 'Holy water--from the well in China where Li used to meet his wife. I thought it was some kind of biological agent--something that would rot the flesh right off you.' 'We could use some powerful stuff,' she said. She handed one of the jars back to Donovan. 'What's this for?' 'That one's for you,' she said. 'I think you need to use it on yourself.' 'What about the other one?' 'I'm going to hang on to it. I need a little time to think.' He nodded. 'Well, like you said--we've got plenty of time.' 'Yes, Nathan--we've got plenty of time.'" (p. 390)

In this way, Tim Downs ends his beautiful novel of forgiveness and leaves the reader with a thought-provoking ending.


chineseforgiveness.jpg
Chinese symbol for forgiveness