The fantastic elements of the novel lead the reader to contemplate its allegorical nature. Critics have read it as a novel about the generation gap between fathers and sons and, more broadly, about the end of one era and the beginning of another. Clearly, Donald Barthelme is drawing on Freudian psychology as he depicts the tyranny of fathers and patricidal desires of sons. He also is analyzing the ideological gap between the World War II generation and the Vietnam War generation. As in Ernest Hemingway’s “Big Two-Hearted River,” there is no mention of either war in Barthelme’s novel, but the context emerges from Thomas’ rejection of his father’s tyrannical rule. Barthelme seems to have perceived that such rebellion would not last after members of the younger generation tasted power themselves; indeed, once Thomas begins to move into the position of authority, his rejection of “the system” softens and his behavior, particularly his cruel treatment of his father, begins to remind the reader of the Dead Father’s actions. Recalling to the reader how the Dead Father goes on a killing spree every time his wishes are thwarted by Thomas, Thomas tells about a dream in which he discovered the secret of patriarchal power: having the choice to murder or not to murder.
The novel seems also to be a postmodern retelling of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922), which reveals that the postmodern world ultimately is not much different from the...
(The entire section is 535 words.)