Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Gombrowicz’s novel attacks the idea that human beings are the masters of their destinies. Most people are immature; they do what they have been taught by family, society, and school. Much of the author’s humor derives from exposing human pretensions and conventionality. People believe that they are acting on their own and in the interest of the highest ideals when, in fact, they are usually motivated by urges they cannot control. Professor Pimko says that he has brought Johnnie to the Youthful household to learn how a modern home and family are managed. In truth, Pimko is obsessed with Zuta and is looking for ways to be intimate with her. His concerns are sensual, not intellectual. Yet the professor is so bound by the rhetoric of schooling that he cannot see the lie in what he professes. He does not really want to teach children; he wants to be a child again. His advanced age makes youth all the more desirable. While his facade is one of a confident, urbane intellectual, his true state reflects an instability that is characteristic of human life in general. As the critic Robert Boyers suggests, “what Ferdydurke enforces ultimately is an existentialist view of man as perpetually in the act of becoming, perpetually insecure and filled with that neurotic dread of extinction that is a visible component of works by Sartre, Beckett, and others.”

It takes a considerable adjustment to read Gombrowicz because, unlike most novelists, he is not...

(The entire section is 440 words.)