In The Tunnel by William Gass, Professor Kohler is trying to make sense of the consuming anger he feels. It has prevented him from finishing the introduction to his book satisfactorily and he begins to question his own version of the truth. Professor Kohler's book is historical, well-researched, and apparently neutral in its depiction of "Guilt and Innocence in Hitler's Germany." However, the professor is unable to separate himself from his own past and his introduction to his masterpiece becomes a self-examination fraught with confusion; it gives readers a glimpse into his obsessive and overwhelming vision. As such, the language is intense, the images are intense and the emotions are intense. The objectivity which the professor would have staked his reputation on is now part of the problem as his own experiences cloud his judgment and affect his factual and historical account to the point that everything is questionable. Having begun his introduction "in celebratory mode," Kohler's attempts to form the Party of Disappointed People (the PdP) reveals his apathy and detachment, apportioning blame rather than being accountable. A theme emerges as chaos and order become indistinguishable.
Gass spent many years on The Tunnel and presents Kohler as a detestable human being with no redeeming features. The chaos that now exists where Kohler expected to find order continues to confound him. The effect that his past has on his present circumstances is almost too much to bear. This results in a stream of consciousness throughout—which is why the book seems to have no cohesion. Kohler is in his own world and the reader has to decipher the meaning and significance of his descriptions and language. This disjointed style is therefore purposeful and contributes to the theme as Kohler jumps about trying to find something that surprisingly and consistently eludes him—the real truth. The over-exaggerations only serve to confuse him and the reader. Kohler never really resolves his issues; he only draws attention to them. He is so self-absorbed that he cannot even bring himself to love his sons. Kohler cannot escape his past and his present only serves to reinforce what has gone before. Digging the tunnel is then intended as a release from the tunnel that exists in the form of the book. But even the tunnel will not allow for escape, and Kohler is lost in his thoughts without any way of using them to find the release he is apparently striving for.
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