Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Because Something Happened is a novel so little concerned with plot and character in the traditional sense, theme becomes particularly important. Heller clearly intends to demonstrate the vast emptiness of modern life among the neatly constructed suburbs of the upper-middle class. He also wants to establish, however, that those who most embody that emptiness, men such as Bob Slocum, did not desire such a world. Near the end of the novel Slocum states quite directly what he does want from life:I wish I were part of a large family circle and enjoyed it. I would like to fit in. I wish I believed in God. I liked shelled walnuts and raisins at home when I was a child and cracked the walnuts and mixed them all up with the raisins in a dish before I began eating. My mother sent out for ice cream often in the spring and summer. In the fall we had good charlotte russes. I would spin tops. I remember the faces of the street cleaners.
Clearly he longs for traditional values, a world of love, trust, and simple pleasures. Yet, caught up in a world too complex and too alienating for such simplicity and security, he becomes both disillusioned and compulsively needful and insatiable. Finally, his intense desire to love his son in the way he himself wants to be loved destroys the son, an ironic climax, all the more stark and chilling for its apparently insignificant impact on the daily life of Slocum and his surviving family.
The death of the son, the...
(The entire section is 415 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of Something Happened Themes. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
The title of Heller's second novel reveals its major theme — that there is an unidentifiable something that happened to create anxiety and disillusionment in its Everyman protagonist. Through Bob Slocum's middle-age crisis, Heller confronts us with the truth that as humans age, they lose innocence and confidence in their ability to shape their destinies. Success in the corporate world does not guarantee happiness. Dreams of family affection and harmony are quickly dispelled by the realities of combativeness, insecurity, and guilt that characterize the Slocum family's interactions. Bob Slocum's idealism becomes transformed into acceptance of life's banalities. As Heller explains, Something Happened "is a very bleak book, a melancholy illumination on the part of a man in his forties who looks at his past and looks at his present and tries to see some kind of future and sees not much of any."
Moreover, not only does the novel suggest there is a haunting, amorphous "something" that must have directed our fate, but there is an equally amorphous "something" that forebodes disaster, a paranoia inspired presentiment that Slocum terms "the willies." It is the willies that make Slocum fearful about his job security despite salary raises and promotions, that make him fantasize that his children will drown, choke, or be murdered, that evoke disturbing sexual memories, and that compel him in an unforgettably horrible scene to hug his injured son so tightly in...
(The entire section is 599 words.)