Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 11, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 404

Concrete is an existential novel that deals with the isolation of consciousness from the world and the endless suffering that this estrangement causes in the individual. In the existential philosophies of thinkers such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Martin Heidegger, the mind is fundamentally different from all being. Human beings are creatures who live not in the present, like animals, but in the future and are thus tormented by the awareness of eventual and unavoidable death. Life is viewed as a vale of tears in which one only suffers. Most people do all they can to avoid acknowledging such a truth. Nihilism and pessimism are attitudes that often accompany such gloomy, yet true, ideas. The intellectual and pessimistic narrator of the novel mentions Nietzsche, Arthur Schopenhauer, and Fyodor Dostoevski in his reflections and thereby clearly aligns himself with this tradition of existential thought.

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The title of the novel suggests the impotence and paralysis of consciousness in reality. It is as if consciousness is stuck in “concrete,” unable to move, fixed and unfree. The narrator’s constant hesitation and his inability to take decisive action also indicate the image of the immobility and paralysis of consciousness. This inability to move and act as a result of a hyperintellectuality is a frequent theme in Bernhard’s writings.

The narrator’s failed efforts to write his treatise again point out his entrapment within his own mind. His project represents an attempt to assert the self within the world, to make an impact on it, to be “concrete.” Like most of Bernhard’s characters, he will not succeed, and the effort will drive him to the brink of insanity.

The narrator’s sadomasochistic dealings with his sister suggest the author’s dim view of interpersonal relationships. Bernhard, himself, lives alone and is of the opinion that suffering is the result of most contacts with others, especially those of the opposite sex. “Love” is an illusion and rests primarily on sick dependencies and mutual exploitation.

The story of Anna Hardtl, the death of her husband and her suicide, presents a totally bleak and pessimistic view of life. She represents an innocent and helpless creature who is crushed by the random and indifferent vicissitudes of existence. The news of her death deeply affects the narrator and leaves him in a state of high anxiety. All human life is weighted down by the “concrete” of existence, and the only escape is death.

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Characters