Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 486

In broadest terms, The Forbidden Forest is a novel about the meaning of life, or, more specifically, how to discern meaning in the seemingly random, tragic series of events that comprises the histories of individuals and nations. Subsidiary, complementary themes are time, history, death, and fate.

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Stefan attempts to hold himself aloof from history (politics) as much as possible; he withdraws into his secret room to paint, or into literature or his memories of privileged occasions—childhood, moments of love—when time stood still. These methods of evading historical time afford but temporary relief, nor are they foolproof (for example, during the London blitz). Stefan seeks the ability to live permanently in “eternal time”—while still continuing his existence in the historical duration, “as the saints do.” Otherwise, history would have no meaning, he says. In the mountains, he meets an educated man, Anise, who has adopted the life of a peasant and is living in harmony with “cosmic rhythms,” nature’s cyclical time. Stefan is attracted to this life-style but becomes disillusioned with it when he learns that both Anise and his farm were swept away by the war. Biris regards history stoically as leading only to death, until late in the book when he comes to believe that there is more. Irina, a firm believer in Orthodoxy, promises Stefan that all he has experienced sequentially on earth will be his simultaneously in Heaven, where time will be no more. Catalina, enamored of Oriental philosophy, believes that life is illusory, the purposeless play of maya (though later she seems to find purpose in unselfish service). Bibicescu, the playwright, thinks that history and fate can be conquered only by compressing time into the dramatic spectacle and “exorcising” it.

Rejecting all these views of historical time, as well as those of Marxism and existentialism, Stefan is convinced that for those who are alert, “signs” can be perceived amid commonplace events, and that by following these signs one can discover the purpose of one’s personal life. This discovery is possible because life is predetermined by fate—a thing that several characters in fact believe. For Stefan, doamna Zissu is a clue as to the course which his life should take, or should have taken. When he discovers that this long-dead woman is a kind of “common denominator” in his life and those of several others, including Ioana and Ileana, he exclaims humbly, “Thy will be done!” Thus, like Jesus in Gethsemane, Stefan accepts his destiny.

Though this life is governed by fate, is there perhaps also a transcendent meaning to history, an existence beyond in which all enigmas are resolved? Stefan dares to believe that there is, and for him its proof is Ileana’s car. The car is, clearly, the vehicle that effects the “rupture of planes,” the passage to the “other life.” Ileana, as one sees in the end, is Stefan’s “angel of death.”

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Characters