Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The Big Clock’s title is indicative of the symbolic level on which the novel operates. The “big clock” is time or fate, which dictates human lives. Early in the novel, Stroud wonders how one circumnavigates through the big clock’s maze of traps and baits to find the truth. After the murder, the clock is ticking away George Stroud’s life and chances at happiness, and he is desperate to get them back. Throughout the novel, unconcealed references to the big clock appear. Stroud’s cynicism about the gigantic watch turns to fear as he discusses it after his life is in danger. At the outset, the big clock is ticking for everyone or no one, but during the search for the mysterious witness, the clock appears to be ticking only for him. At the end of the novel, the big clock is looking, in its blind and impersonal way, for someone else.

As the big clock is a machine, so is Janoth Enterprises a similar kind of machine that quashes the individual. Fearing has presented a less than sympathetic character in George Stroud, but at least he sees the crippling power of the corporate machine, as relentless in its own way as fate itself. The nonconformist Louise Patterson and her art might represent the other end of the spectrum, the only means of arriving at truth. Louise Patterson’s paintings themselves are symbolic, particularly in their titles. A painting of hands that Delos names “Judas” (she is betraying her boyfriend, he is betraying his...

(The entire section is 463 words.)