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Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

That characters are inseparable from the themes and meanings that they create or have imposed upon them seems to be the point Witold Gombrowicz makes in calling his novel Cosmos. Witold’s odd way of describing himself and others is perfectly natural to him, because he sees correspondences between himself and others that someone else would not necessarily acknowledge. When he says that “Katasia advanced from the sideboard to clear the table, and her deformed, gliding, darting mouth approached the mouth opposite me,” Witold has arbitrarily chosen to associate Katasia’s mouth with that of Lena, who sits across from him at meals. Another character might find some other feature to establish a different relationship which is just as arbitrary. Witold realizes this when he discovers a photograph of Katasia that shows her with a “perfectly normal mouth, a decent, honest, peasant mouth.”

Like most of the characters in this novel, Witold finds things significant because he has made them so. He returns to the same subjects repeatedly, until he is convinced of their import. That his ideas are, in fact, unsupported by reality is revealed by the lameness of his language: “when something was repeated more often than it ought to be, well, we knew what it was like when something was repeated more than often than it ought to be.”

Cosmos does not have a plot as such, because the very idea of a plot involves moving to a destination or a definitive ending, and this maneuver is not possible in Gombrowicz’s mundane world. Despite all the pseudoprofundity of his speculations, Witold ends his narrative by mentioning what he had for lunch. This is a pathetic ending, but it is what the author intended. In the words of Czesaw Miosz, “Gombrowicz’s destructive talent has always been directed toward...

(The entire section is 448 words.)