Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

When Fiskadoro returns to his village, unable to remember, it is as if he is starting life brand new, like a baby. Being thus born again, Johnson suggests, is the first step toward the possibility of living, not merely surviving, in this world and in worlds to come. Fiskadoro is the future. In a world born out of the contaminated ashes of a nuclear apocalypse—an apocalypse that mirrors Fiskadoro’s own self-mutilation—history loses its importance, its hold over the living. As Grandmother Wright’s silence quietly articulates, remembering does nothing but render one speechless and static in the presence of unspeakable events.

The events that give rise to the novel are also left unspeakable, as if Johnson simply was not interested in the details, the political framework, leading up to the End of the World, but rather in what rises out of this horrific end. The world of Fiskadoro, a time referred to only as the Quarantine, is a place born out of fire and death. Yet life still exists; people live, fish, plant gardens, play music, and even find time to make love. Yet the central question remains: Which of them will be saved? Or, perhaps even more important, what does it mean to be saved? Early on in the novel, readers are told that the boy Fiskadoro was the only one “ready when we came.” Johnson seems to suggest, at the novel’s close, that salvation is possible only for those who suffer, who are willing to lose themselves completely in the...

(The entire section is 434 words.)