Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 13, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 517

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There are several themes in Bosnian Chronicle, but the main one is the contrast between the West and the East. The comparatively enlightened world of the West, represented by the consuls of France and Austria, is counterposed by the backward, mysterious, dark world of the East as it exists in the Turkish Empire. Even though the opposing sides are not in an open conflict, the behavior of the players involved points to a tacit rivalry that is just as intense. The distrust with which the Westerners are met, not only by the Turkish officials but also by the people on the street, can only be explained by a deep-seated enmity. The antagonism goes beyond the political and national differences; it goes to the core of the way of life and the attitudes of the two worlds. Philosophical fatalism, resignation, deep mistrust of everything foreign, basic disregard for the rights of individuals—considered normal among the people of the East and the Turkish Empire—are pitted against the more open, compassionate, rational, and law-oriented ways of the West. Ivo Andri presents this drama not so much by musings and discussions about history as through the interplay of people who are forced into situations beyond anything they have experienced before, thus adding a special dimension to the novel.

That this novel is not simply a historical chronicle but primarily a story of the people caught in the maelstrom of history is further demonstrated by the fine psychological studies Andri invests in most of his characters, certainly the main ones. In all of his works, Andri is at his best when he illuminates the deepest recesses of the minds and hearts of his protagonists no matter to what race, nationality, class, or creed they belong. This approach makes the novel more interesting than if it were strictly a historical chronicle. Thus Travnik, its historical significance at the time notwithstanding, becomes a backdrop for several human dramas that constitute the core of the novel. Even though almost all events and personalities can be traced to historical sources, which Andri had researched diligently, the historical events—the Napoleonic Wars, the reforms of Selim the Third, and the first Serbian uprising—are never in the forefront. Instead, they cast their long shadows on the lives of Travnik’s inhabitants. In the last analysis, the actions of the novel’s characters are futile because everything is decided for them elsewhere; the actors are like puppets directed by remote control, achieving very little by themselves as far as history is concerned.

Another interesting theme is the role of women in the novel. Andri sharply differentiates between his usual Oriental women, who are little more than objects of men’s pleasure, and the emancipated Western women, who are, to some degree, like their male partners, with their own rights.

The universal meaning of the novel can be seen in the need for perseverance in a seemingly hopeless situation. This is symbolized by Daville’s hope at the end of the novel, before leaving Travnik, that “the right road” will eventually be found despite his Bosnian experience.