Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Early in his life, Pär Lagerkvist became aware of his incapacity for upholding and adhering to the stern and uncompromising religion of his forebears and of his consequent exclusion from the security and meaning that their religion provided. His estrangement from religious faith engendered his humanism, and his need for the security and meaning denied him produced his anguish (ångest) and his longing (längtan). His humanistic inclination and his experience of ångest constitute the theme of “Father and I.”

The nature of Lagerkvist’s humanism, with its development of an emphasis on alienation and authentic individualism, already much in evidence in “Father and I,” came to coincide with existentialism, not so much in the character of Jean-Paul Sartre’s philosophy as in the intonations of Albert Camus’s fiction and lyrical essays. Like Camus, Lagerkvist was tormented by the essential unhappiness of human life and sought, not to escape it through rational philosophy or self-deception but to nurture, as the nucleus of human unhappiness, that longing that—because it cannot be satisfied—becomes its own meaning and, as such, the fulfillment of the life of one who confronts it with the same constancy as Camus would have one confront the absurd. Where wisdom for Socrates consisted in knowing that he did not know, happiness for Lagerkvist, as for Camus, consisted in pursuing it while remaining unflinchingly aware of...

(The entire section is 500 words.)