Themes

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 304

The Big Clock is a novel by Kenneth Fearing. The novel is a noir-style thriller. The first major theme of the novel is the concept of deception. The main character, George Stroud, engages in a secret relationship with his boss's girlfriend. The theme of disloyalty is exemplified by both George...

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The Big Clock is a novel by Kenneth Fearing. The novel is a noir-style thriller. The first major theme of the novel is the concept of deception. The main character, George Stroud, engages in a secret relationship with his boss's girlfriend. The theme of disloyalty is exemplified by both George Stroud, who deceives his own boss at a major publishing company, and by Pauline, the girlfriend of the boss who cheats on him. In fact, the deception is a root of the narrative's central issue. Stroud's boss, Earl Janoth, is the prime suspect in the murder of Pauline, which occurred right after Stroud left Janoth's apartment, where Pauline was residing. Janoth asks his staff—interestingly headed by Stroud—to investigate any possible witnesses of Janoth entering his apartment, particularly the "phantom" figure who Janoth briefly sees as he comes home. That phantom is, of course, Stroud himself.

When Janoth commands his staff to investigate the identity of the mysterious figure, Stroud finds himself creating further deceptions to cover his tracks and keep his own colleagues from discovering the truth. Another theme in the novel is the dynamics of marriages and relationships, and particularly the role of women in the noir genre. Stroud is having an affair behind his wife's back. Pauline is the murder victim, but isn't given a point of view in the novel. In this sense, the women in the story are victims: one is deceived whilst the other is killed. The main character himself is not a traditional protagonist, but is someone who is flawed and is more concerned with covering his secret affair than finding the actual killer, who also later murders Janoth by pushing him out a window. The novel reflects the social and household dynamics of mid-twentieth-century America, where women are either domesticated or perceived as trophy wives.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 463

The Big Clock’s title is indicative of the symbolic level on which the novel operates. The “big clock” is time or fate, which dictates human lives. Early in the novel, Stroud wonders how one circumnavigates through the big clock’s maze of traps and baits to find the truth. After the murder, the clock is ticking away George Stroud’s life and chances at happiness, and he is desperate to get them back. Throughout the novel, unconcealed references to the big clock appear. Stroud’s cynicism about the gigantic watch turns to fear as he discusses it after his life is in danger. At the outset, the big clock is ticking for everyone or no one, but during the search for the mysterious witness, the clock appears to be ticking only for him. At the end of the novel, the big clock is looking, in its blind and impersonal way, for someone else.

As the big clock is a machine, so is Janoth Enterprises a similar kind of machine that quashes the individual. Fearing has presented a less than sympathetic character in George Stroud, but at least he sees the crippling power of the corporate machine, as relentless in its own way as fate itself. The nonconformist Louise Patterson and her art might represent the other end of the spectrum, the only means of arriving at truth. Louise Patterson’s paintings themselves are symbolic, particularly in their titles. A painting of hands that Delos names “Judas” (she is betraying her boyfriend, he is betraying his boss) is called “Study in Fundamentals” by the artist. “The Study in Fury” hangs on Stroud’s wall at Janoth Enterprises, and it is Janoth’s blind fury that leads to his girlfriend’s death.

Corporate conspiracy, the ongoing conspiracy of the media in particular, is the backdrop to the novel. Janoth’s feelings of paranoia that his operation has been targeted for takeover counters Stroud’s practical way of seeking ways to avoid being found. Stroud accepts his fate in a way that Janoth cannot, because, as Stroud implies, his insight lets him know the big clock is there. Just as he sees the truth in Patterson’s paintings, Stroud has an uncanny ability to see beyond the manipulation of the truth by the media to the real truth. Janoth tries to manipulate, to work against the big clock, but in Hardyesque fashion, his efforts are minuscule against inexorable fate. Because he knows that fate, not people, dictates what will happen, Stroud aims to set the big clock ticking for someone else, preferably the murderer himself. Further, the facelessness of the corporate machinery is echoed by the facelessness of the phantom witness, who manages to outwit all two thousand employees of Janoth Enterprises looking for him.

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