If “theme” is taken to mean the manner in which a novel deals with human experience, then the basic theme of The Apple in the Dark is an ancient one; it is the quest for awareness and understanding.

The vagueness of the novel’s conclusion is symptomatic of Lispector’s primary theme. As is clear in her previous three novels, Lispector’s view of human relationships is a complex and often contradictory one. Martim is estranged from the people to whom, in a social sense, he appears the closest; he is aware of being manipulated by many of these same people, yet he becomes confused and insecure when their domination is removed. Martim, however, is not committed to attaining real freedom; rather he is anxious to be led back into the protective confines of society.

Yet for all the superficiality of Martim’s quest for a new identity, he reveals himself to be an intensely human character. As Martim attempts to strip away the falseness and hypocrisy characteristic of much social behavior, he grows increasingly aware of language, only to reject it—that most human and social of inventions. Reducing his sense of being to the level of rocks and stones, he proceeds to rebuild himself by rediscovering the primitive sources of language and attempting to use it in more honest ways. Martim, like most of Lispector’s characters, feels himself trapped in what Jacques Derrida might call a prison of words, or a web of self-referential intertextuality.

Martim’s descent into the mysteries...

(The entire section is 624 words.)