Themes and Meanings
The novel begins with a citation from Sophocles,"Time that sees all has found you out against your will.” The book is then divided into five chapters and an epilogue, which suggests the form of a classical tragedy, such as Oedipus Tyrannus. Elements that indicate that the novel is a reworking of the Oedipus legend are to be found in such passages as those that show Garinati seeing debris floating in a canal, debris that forms, among other things, a sphinxlike monster. There is also a scene in which Wallas sees, in a curtain, the depiction of a child nursing a sheep. There is even a drunk who poses, along with two others, the sphinx’s riddle: What animal walks on four legs in the morning, two at noon, and three at night? There is a statuette that shows a child leading a blind man. The child, however, is male, and Oedipus was led by his daughter, Antigone.
Nevertheless, the most important clue is taken to be the eraser that Wallas seeks. That eraser was so worn that there were only two letters left of the brand name: ——di-—-. For most critics, the name suggested would be Oedipus. Because of that and other clues that seem to point to the Oedipus legend, it is generally believed by critics that the book is a modern version of that myth, particularly so since Wallas accidentally kills Dupont at the end of the book. Yet such an interpretation would be rather simplistic and certainly not consistent with the claims made by critics that Robbe-Grillet is a great innovator in the novel. One should then look at Robbe-Grillet’s critical writings, keeping in mind what he wrote about Wallas’ hero and mentor, Inspector Fabius.
When faced with difficulties, such as having to lie about where he wishes to go, or having to fit in at a workingman’s bar, Wallas often asks himself what Fabius would do in a similar situation, even to the point of becoming Fabius in his mind. Fabius, a name that suggests the French verb, fabuler, to make up fantastic stories, is, perhaps, another warning to the reader about Robbe-Grillet’s intentions. Fabius, according to the novel, no longer accepts the most obvious evidence or believes that any solution is possible.