Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The expatriates in this story are obviously confused about the identity and intentions of this stranger in civilian clothes, and when he speaks German, they attack him with the hatred built up for their longtime oppressors. Strangely enough, the reader may also be somewhat puzzled by him. He is apparently willing to forgive his killers in a magnanimous gesture of friendship even as he dies. However, there is something ambiguous about his character, what little the reader knows of it.

Perhaps the most puzzling statement about him comes early in the story: “Claeys was a teacher, engaged then on relief measures, a volunteer for this work of rehabilitation of the enemy, perhaps a sort of half-brother-of-mercy as during the occupation he had been a sort of half-killer.” Does this mean he was a “half-brother” to Germans? A collaborator, perhaps, or simply one who did nothing while others were killed and who thus feels half-guilty? Was he one whose resistance to the Germans was only theoretical, not actual? “Now he wanted to construct quickly the world of which he had dreamed during the shadow years; now he was often as impatient of inaction as he had learned to be patient before.”

The only clues that the reader is given to comprehend his nature come from the burden of his thoughts as he rides through the countryside. He seems to be philosophically inclined, more a man of thought than a man of action. He meditates much of the time on the...

(The entire section is 493 words.)