Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The main interpretive question raised by Ilse Aichinger’s story concerns the nature of bonds. Written in the aftermath of World War II, the story seems to be a criticism of the direction that humankind was taking. People were distancing themselves from nature, and society was becoming preoccupied with the invention of high-powered weapons. In taking this direction, humankind was neglecting and denying the positive aspects of its basic animal nature. Something essential was missing in modern society. The bound man reverses this trend by voluntarily going back to the basics, dispensing with things commonly considered indispensable: his knife, money, coat, and shoes. He is, as it were, reborn. He has no past because his experiment is an alternative unfolding of human evolution from the very birth of humanity. What if one could go back in time and do things differently? Would it not be preferable to remain in one’s natural state, in touch with the earth and the animals, one’s body in perfect shape, responding to one’s instincts?

The bound man felt himself in the power of the earth. He was exhilarated by the rediscovery of his physical potential and felt “that he had reached a speed at which no motorcycle could have overtaken him.” Human beings were not made to ride around on machines that give a false sense of speed and power. Aichinger suggests that the ultimate experience of strength or speed stems from self-discipline and practice, from...

(The entire section is 525 words.)