Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The treatment of the central characters as representatives of abstract notions of masculine and feminine traits is a manifestation of a principal theme of the novel, the search for the meaning of human existence. Sábato creates from a common, almost trivial concern—that of the inability of one sex to understand the other—an exploration of an ontological problem. As Martín, Bruno, and Fernando attempt, each in his own way, to understand the mysterious Alejandra (who is likened to Argentina itself), they seek through the elusive feminine psyche a justification for their own experience. Fernando’s hallucinatory, somnambulistic document about the blind is presented in terms of a harrowing journey through the vaginal canal of a woman, and Martín is rescued from his despair by a warm, maternal savior, Hortensia Paz. Bruno works out his answers to the mystery vicariously, by piecing together the story of Martín, Fernando, and Alejandra. Fernando finds his solution in his own madness, justifying the irrationality of existence as a plot perpetrated by blind people. Martín resolves his anguish by escaping to the free, open spaces of Patagonia, out of the reach of women, and by experiencing the exhilarating sense of masculine communion as he and the truck driver urinate together under the stars.

In the conflict of man and woman, then, is contained the insoluble mystery of existence. The elaboration of the conflict in On Heroes and Tombs is...

(The entire section is 514 words.)