As a boy and a teenager, Ove learns from his father that fairness and loyalty are two of the most important qualities in a man. He learns that it's extremely important to act fairly and honorably, even if the outcome is less desirable because of it; Ove believes in the importance of a job well done or a thing done correctly over getting ahead. Though this belief is certainly a part of Ove's conception of rules and structure, it also has a distinctly personal element to it, as it's primarily how Ove structures his relationships with people and objects in his life.
Particularly when it comes to Ove's principles, he genders them as a specifically masculine quality. For Ove, firm principles make men better and are something that men understand; he consistently says that women don't understand doing something just for the principle of it. This is true of both Sonja and Parvaneh, the two women Ove has the most contact with throughout the novel. While Sonja respects Ove's desire to do a job well for the sake of doing it well, she also regularly discourages Ove from arguing with people solely for the principle of whatever they're arguing about. Parvaneh doesn't understand why Ove engages in yelling matches with parking attendants over hospital parking fees, and Ove insists she simply doesn't understand principles when she offers to pay for parking herself. It's important to note that as a general rule, the female characters in A Man Called Ove move through life with much more ease than Ove does, as do the male characters that Ove feels are less masculine like Patrick and Jimmy. While Ove's principles make him feel better about himself and more masculine, they don't necessarily make his life any easier.
The novel explores ideas of fairness and loyalty primarily through the characters' relationships to vehicles. Ove is a devoted Saab driver, while Rune is a Volvo driver who late in life buys a sporty BMW. Before that point, the cars serve two purposes. First, they show that both Ove and Rune are loyal to their chosen brand, while the particular models they choose demonstrate their loyalty to their families. Ove buys vehicles that can accommodate Sonja's wheelchairs, while Rune buys cars appropriate for one child and then the possibility of more, though he and Anita don't end up having any more children. Ove finally stops purchasing new Saabs when GM acquires Saab in 1989—he'd rather drive his car from the late 1980s than purchase from a company who hasn't shown loyalty to devoted customers like Ove. Rune, on the other hand, purchases a BMW sports car after his adult son leaves his parents and Sweden for America. Ove sees Rune's purchase as the ultimate betrayal of loyalty. In his eyes, it represents Rune giving up on his family and for Ove, who values nothing more than loyalty and principles, this is an unforgivable offense and signals the end of his friendship with Rune.
Ove's belief in fairness can also be understood through the way he thinks about houses. He believes that you get out of a house what you put into a house, in that if built well and properly maintained, a house will fairly serve its inhabitants. Ove applies this idea to every aspect of his life. He goes to work every day and expects nothing more than to get to keep working; he cares for Sonja and expects only that she stay alive and in his life; and he's fanatical about properly maintaining his string of Saab cars over the years. He also uses this theory to try to keep Sonja's memory alive after her death. Rather than make the house his own, he spends the six months after her death living among her things, from hair clips and post-it notes to her piles of coats and clothing. Ove believes that this is a way for him to remain true to her and their marriage, particularly as he formulates his plans to commit suicide. He believes that he's putting in his time and his care into their shared home together, and he'll get to spend eternity with Sonja in return.
After her death, Sonja becomes a voice in Ove's head that encourages him to look outside his firm principles to see the bigger picture. While he still does things the way they should be done for no other reason than that's the way it should be, he does begin to adopt a more Sonja-like view on how and why things should be done. When he allows Parvaneh to pay for parking and decides not to set a trap for the dog that regularly urinates on his paving stones, it shows that Ove learns in his old age that while his decidedly masculine principles may make him right, honest, and admirable, sometimes principles for principles' sake aren't the most important thing in life.
Principles, Fairness, and Loyalty ThemeTracker
Principles, Fairness, and Loyalty Quotes in A Man Called Ove
Ove didn't really care who was parked in the guest parking area, of course. But it was a question of principle. If it said twenty-four hours on the sign, that's how long you were allowed to stay.
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.
And if you could just go and buy everything, what was the value of it? What was the value of a man?
Since his father's death he had begun more and more to differentiate between people who did what they should, and those who didn't. People who did and people who just talked. Ove talked less and less and did more and more.
He'd discovered that he liked houses. Maybe mostly because they were understandable... Houses were fair, they gave you what you deserved. Which, unfortunately, was more than one could say about people.
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?
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.
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.
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.