Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The themes of Handke’s novel are independence, integrity, loneliness, self-preservation, and dignity. Although written by a man, The Left-Handed Woman is very much a woman’s story, convincing, no doubt, because the themes transcend gender. Marianne apparently has not been abused by her husband before she decides to leave him, but she has not been allowed much justification for self-respect in her married life. She seems determined to prove herself.

Though Handke is careful not to reveal Marianne’s feelings, one supposes that there may be some personal satisfaction as a consequence of her finding employment and being able to provide for herself and her son. She is also able to establish relationships on her own terms after her liberation. She rises above emotional ties to her father, her son, her closest friend, her ex-husband, and the actor who is enamored of her.

Once she has liberated herself from male dominance, she avoids emotional entanglements. She extends friendship, but that is all. Her editor, an older man, seems to respect her. She earns that respect from the reader as well, for she has acted courageously. There is no evidence that she has thought through her position, but that is partly a consequence of the novel’s point of view. She appears to behave on instinct. The mystery of human motivation is therefore established and maintained, to the degree that the novel conveys an almost documentary feeling, except that the subject never confides in others. That is the source of her mystery; that is the cause of the reader’s fascination. She neither seeks nor accepts support. Her privacy is inviolate and protected.