Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Adolfo Bioy Casares’s unique interpretation of the problem of aging serves as the basic motif for a much more important and universal theme of the novel: death. The author exploits the polarization of the young and the old in an attempt to decipher the meaning of life as it draws near its termination.

In the abstract and fanciful game played by the characters of the novel, the reader quickly notes the morbid symptoms of a youth-oriented society. In this fantastic world of persecution, everyone is a victim. Even the young, as Dr. Cadelago explains to the protagonist, “. . . come to understand that every old man is what one young man or another will someday become.” This fatalistic notion, in turn, provides the motive for the persecution, for in the intricate campaign to annihilate the old people, the juvenile members of this inhuman society become self-destructive. Dr. Cadalego further explains the hostile obsession of the young when he clarifies the problem: “. . . killing an old man is a kind of suicide.”

Furthermore, in this oppression of the old by the young, the author delineates a universal pattern for persecution. Author D. P. Gallagher notes that the reader of this novel observes “the volatility of crowds, the persuasive power of demagogy, the problem of the divided family, the dilemma of those who believe they are not one of the victims (the old man who believes he is not yet old, like the Jew who believes he isn’t a Jew), or of those who try to alter their appearance in order not to look conspicuous (the old man who dyes his hair, like the Jew who alters his nose).”