Although the novel initially portrays Ove as a perpetual loner, it soon becomes apparent that Ove is a person driven by love for his family as represented by Sonja, his late wife. After her death, Ove becomes unmoored and suffers as a widower until he begins allowing others in his community to enter his life and begins to form a new family of sorts with them. In this way, the novel takes a careful look at how communities function, the consequences of loneliness, and the positive effects of community on an unhappy and lonely individual like Ove.
The novel begins by insisting that Ove is a loner and despises everyone except for his wife. Through the flashbacks that follow, however, the reader learns that this characterization of Ove is entirely false: Ove spent much of his life since meeting Sonja building a family and a community. Within the span of a year, Sonja had become pregnant, she and Ove had moved into their house and befriended their neighbors, Anita and Rune, and Ove and Sonja had gotten married. Although Ove and Rune are both quiet and stoic men, they formed a friendship to appease their pregnant wives, who quickly became best friends. This shows Ove building a family and working on a friendship of his own—and he's notably happy doing so. Rune becomes a person Ove can discuss principles and lawnmowers with, things that Sonja gets tired of hearing about.
However, disaster strikes not long after Sonja and Ove are married, when the two are involved in a bus accident that paralyzes Sonja from the waist down and causes her to miscarry. Sonja is able to recover physically and emotionally from this blow—she adjusts to life in a wheelchair and throws herself into teaching struggling students. These students become stand-ins for the biological child she never had, and her relationship with Anita remains strong in the following years. Ove, on the other hand, remains devoted to Sonja, but is never able to forgive Rune for not getting along with his own son as the years go by. Having turned his back on his friend and neighbor, Ove seems also to reject the possibility of community beyond his marriage with Sonja. Her death therefore represents the death of the only person with whom he has ever felt true love and community, and leaves him completely alone.
In the present, Ove is left entirely without a community, and the effects of his loneliness are devastating. Rather than return to the existence he had before Sonja where he was alone and reasonably satisfied with life (though not happy, per se), Ove attempts suicide so he can continue his relationship with Sonja in the afterlife. The fact that Ove's loneliness drives him to suicide for those particular reasons makes it abundantly clear that even if Ove himself won't admit it, family and community are essential to his happiness and wellbeing.
As the story unfolds, Ove is forced to accept the community on offer as his new neighbor, Parvaneh, inserts herself into Ove's life, introduces him to new faces in the community while reminding him that old friends like Rune still exist, and regularly spoils his suicide attempts. Ove accepts his new community in part because many of the people in it remind him of Sonja, or are people he knows that Sonja would like. Ove then uses the collective power of the community he builds to save Rune from being placed in an assisted living facility (and thus removed from the community).
Ove's life makes a final turn for the better when he's at his worst: after suffering a heart attack, Parvaneh lists herself as Ove's next of kin and advocates for him in the hospital as a family member would. Ove lives for another three years and acts as a grandfather to Parvaneh's three children and Jimmy and Mirsad's adopted daughter. The community that surrounds Ove at the end of his life is robust, diverse, and makes Ove's final years worth living. Essentially, the community shows Ove that life is indeed worth living when one has a community to call on for love and support.
Love, Family, and Community ThemeTracker
Love, Family, and Community Quotes in A Man Called Ove
Every morning for the almost four decades they had lived in this house, Ove had put on the coffee percolator, using exactly the same amount of coffee as on any other morning, and then drank a cup with his wife.
Because nowadays people are all thirty-one and wear too-tight trousers and no longer drink normal coffee. And don't want to take responsibility. A shed-load of men with elaborate beards, changing jobs and changing wives and changing their car makes. Just like that. Whenever they feel like it.
He was a man of black and white.
And she was color. All the color he had.
Straight lines, even edges. People don't shovel snow that way anymore. Nowadays they just clear a way, they use snow blowers and all sorts of things. Any old method will do, scattering snow all over the place. As if that were the only thing that mattered in life: pushing one's way forward.
It wasn't supposed to be like this. You work and pay off the mortgage and pay taxes and do what you should. You marry. For better or for worse until death do us part, wasn't that what they agreed? Ove remembers quite clearly that it was. And she wasn't supposed to be the first to die. Wasn't it bloody well understood that it was his death they were talking about? Well, wasn't it?
"And you can't let the girls freeze to death tonight, Ove, right? It's quite enough that they had to watch you assault a clown, no?"
And now she stood outside the station with his flowers pressed happily to her breast, in that red cardigan of hers, making the rest of the world look as if it were made in grayscale.
She wanted to get married, so Ove proposed. She wanted children, which was fine with him, said Ove. And their understanding was that children should live in row housing developments among other children.
As if the kitchen had been built for a child. Parvaneh stares at them the way people always do when they see it for the first time. Ove has got used to it. He rebuilt the kitchen himself after the accident. The council refused to help, of course.
But everywhere, sooner or later, he was stopped by men in white shirts with strict, smug expressions on their faces. And one couldn't fight them. Not only did they have the state on their side, they were the state.
When she says that last bit she points at a figure in the middle of the drawing. Everything else on the paper is drawn in black, but the figure in the middle is a veritable explosion of color. A riot of yellow and red and blue and green and orange and purple.
"You're the funniest thing she knows. That's why she always draws you in color," says Parvaneh.
After the accident Ove bought a Saab 95 so he'd have space for Sonja's wheelchair. That same year Rune bought a Volvo 245 to have space for a stroller. Three years later Sonja got a more modern wheelchair and Ove bought a hatchback, a Saab 900. Rune bought a Volvo 265 because Anita had started talking about having another child.
Rune and Anita's lad grew up and cleared out of home as soon as he got the chance. And Rune went and bought a sporty BMW, one of those cars that only has space for two people and a handbag. Because now it was only him and Anita, as he told Sonja when they met in the parking area. "And one can't drive a Volvo all of one's life," he said with an attempt at a halfhearted smile. She could hear that he was trying to swallow his tears. And that was the moment when Ove realized that a part of Rune had given up forever.
When he almost imperceptibly takes a half step backwards into the hall...he notices, from the corner of his eye, the photo of Sonja on the wall. The red dress. The bus trip to Spain when she was pregnant. He asked her so many times to take that bloody photo down, but she refused. She said it was "a memory worth as much as any other."
He thinks about how Sonja would have taken it if she'd found out. If she'd known that her best friend had not asked for her help because Sonja had "enough problems." She would have been heartbroken.
"They can call me whatever they like. No need for you to stick your bloody nose in."
And then he puts up the drawings one by one on the fridge. The one that says "To Granddad" gets the top spot.