Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Hamsun’s purpose in Mysteries is to depart as far as possible from “ordinary fiction about dances and engagements and excursions and marriages [which] is nothing but reading for sea captains and coachmen looking for an hour’s entertainment.” What Hamsun wishes to explore is human psychology, the mysteries, depths, paradoxes, and irrationalities of human behavior, personality, and identity, the same areas he perceived Dostoevski and August Strindberg to have explored. In an essay entitled “From the Unconscious Life of the Mind,” Hamsun wrote of the need for writers to be concerned with the ineffable:...the secret stirrings that go on unnoticed in the remote parts of the mind, the incalculable chaos of impressions, the delicate life of the imagination seen under the magnifying glass; the random wanderings of those thoughts and feelings; untrodden trackless journeyings by brain and heart, strange workings of the nerves, the whisper of the blood, the entreaty of the bone, all the unconscious life of the mind.

Viewed from this perspective, the novel appears slightly less bewildering. Hamsun has gone some distance toward conveying the mysterious aspects of human consciousness. For example, how is Nagel able to know about the Midget’s secret depravity? He is certainly not able to know by the usual methods of observation, interrogation, logic, or deduction. Even his dreams seem to contradict this view of the Midget. Still, he somehow knows...

(The entire section is 401 words.)