Themes and Meanings

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 508

Correction, as is the case with Bernhard’s other writings, is a chronicle of existential despair. Its form, a sustained monologue, suggests the theme of isolation and estrangement; there is no dialogue with others, only the single voice speaking out into the silence of a universe that is essentially indifferent to mankind and its need to give suffering a meaning. As with the death of the sister after the building has been completed, life is a series of tragic ironies.

Intellectuals such as Roithammer and the narrator illustrate a fundamental theme in Bernhard’s writing: the basic alienation of human consciousness from being. His characters evidence a profound pessimism concerning the meaning of existence. They are all plagued by an exaggerated sense of self-consciousness, an awareness of their otherness in the midst of life. As in the philosophy of the pessimistic thinker Arthur Schopenhauer, whose name appears in Correction, existence is regarded as a random and pointless exercise from which only pain and horror can result. These individuals suffer from this estrangement and their inability to “correct” life, to make it consonant with consciousness. The narrative is a meandering chronicle of their despair. The ultimate “correction” of life for Roithammer is suicide.

Roithammer’s plans to construct a round building in the middle of the desolate woods serves as a symbol of his otherness and alienation. It is a fantastic project, unprecedented and extravagant, an unusual architectural feat. The plans are an attempt to defy society and the opinions of the community. They suggest Roithammer’s exceptional and atypical character, his otherness within the world. The building itself is also an attempt to defy nature and gravity. A round building, a circle, is not a natural form; perfect, geometrical circles do not exist in nature. As such, the structure serves as an existential emblem of human self-consciousness which is fundamentally alien to, eternally other than being (nature). The circle has traditionally been a symbol of eternity (in the wedding ring, for example) and here again suggests the tragic and ironic existential fact that every human being must die. Roithammer’s building is, at a basic level, an attempt to defy death. As the prefatory quotation indicates, a major architectural concern in constructing such an edifice would be the issue of providing stability in such a structure. That again becomes emblematic of Roithammer’s own consciousness, his efforts to provide stability, meaning, and purpose in his own life. The building is a monument to his sister, and, tragically, she dies after its completion.

The characters’ obsession with writing a great intellectual treatise is their final attempt to “correct” existence, to fashion a reality that is subject to the control of the individual. Roithammer’s great treatise is, in one sense, an attempt to come to terms with his own childhood and his parents. It is, to a great degree, a positive gesture, a kind of affirmation—as well as a model of Bernhard’s own writing: Art is a heroic effort, vain though it may be, to refashion life.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access