Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The novel begins and ends with letters, a symbol that conveys one of the principal themes of the book: communication attempted but never completely successful. Letters and conversations permeate this book, continually demonstrating the efforts which characters make to connect but the impossibility of actually doing so. Thus, Jacob writes letters to his mother, but she complains that these are missives “telling me . . . really nothing that I want to know.” Conversations similarly reinforce the idea that people are conversing but not communicating, perhaps because the solitariness of people prevents anything more than superficial relationships. The omnibus is used to demonstrate this separateness, for people ride the vehicle, not as members of a community, but as solitary passengers intent on the stories within them, ignoring the stories within the people traveling next to them.

Yet the efforts to connect accumulate, like Jacob’s letters found in his abandoned room. Why this persistence? The answer is one of the themes of Jacob’s Room: “letters are venerable; and the telephone valiant, for the journey is a lonely one, and if bound together by notes and telephones we went in company, perhaps who knows? we might talk by the way.”