Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The main theme of the novel is that the human capacity for creating illusions must be overcome before there can be any true wisdom. It is better to see life clearly, even if the vision is dark, than to bathe in the rosy light of illusions: Katherine’s realization toward the end of the novel that life “had shrunken slightly into the truth” is worth more than all of her previous false hopes.

The recurring motif of the journey, ironically employed, reinforces the theme. As Katherine gets on the bus early in the novel, she feels “a momentary flicker of pleasure, as if she were entering on a fresh stage of some more important journey.” The motif is taken up later, when she reflects that the day has become so odd that “it was beginning to resemble an odyssey in a dream,” and at the close of the novel, the strongest link she feels with Robin is “that they were journeying together.” The meaning of the term, however, has changed. The journey is no longer seen to possess significance or even to be a journey at all in the conventional sense. It is only a series of disconnected and fortuitous events which two people might by chance share momentarily.

The other recurring motif, with strong metaphoric overtones, is that of the cold winter weather. The first chapter is devoted entirely to the winter setting: Villages are cut off, and many people are forced to remain in their rooms, shut off from one another. Significantly, what little light...

(The entire section is 539 words.)