Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

A Brief Life, with its complex narrative structure, suggests that man is one and many, a multiple being made of a series of distinct and alienated selves. As the title of the book indicates, a man can live many short lives.

Fatalism and failure govern Brausen’s world. It is a world in which man is surrounded by deception which makes futile any fight against the natural obstacles of life. (The book begins and ends symbolically during carnival; life is a masquerade.) There is no way to succeed. The only possibility of salvation is in oneiric inventions, in fantasy: “I had in my hands the paper, the blotter, and the fountain pen necessary for my salvation. . . . I would be saved if I began to write the plot. . . . If I wrote only one phrase.” Salvation through the act of imagination is a recurring theme in Onetti’s work.