Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Sam Slovoda is presented in a sociological frame: He is an urban type—well-educated, sophisticated, jaded, and dissatisfied. He yearns to create great art, yet he capitulates to his defeatist sense that life is too complicated and that he cannot dominate it with his own vision. Sam and his friends speak in the psychological jargon of the 1950’s, seeing people as inhibited by a conformist society. This aspect of the story becomes clearer when it is read in the context of Norman Mailer’s essay “The Meaning of Western Defense,” which argues that Americans have become increasingly passive, anxious, and guilt-ridden.

Sam is the hero of “The Man Who Studied Yoga” because he realizes more acutely than his friends that his life is a series of compromises, what the existentialists of the 1950’s called bad faith, in which the individual becomes inauthentic, that is, untrue to himself, to what he could become through seizing experience and making it an expression of his will to create. Sam’s job as a writer of continuity for comic magazines reflects his fragmented existence. He does not even write whole stories but rather fills in gaps. He is part of the machinery of comic magazine writing, not an independent creator.

Gathering to watch a pornographic film also exposes Sam’s and his friends’ passivity. They are observers, not actors in the dramas of their own lives. They follow the script society writes for them. They even mock...

(The entire section is 430 words.)