Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Like the tragic Theban Oedipus, who finds his fate in fleeing it, Walter Faber falls, in Greece, through an arrogant disregard of the pattern of circumstances that are impelling him toward destruction. Until it is too late, he refuses to recognize the chain of events culminating in the death of his daughter as anything but isolated coincidences. Walter would like to believe that it was mere happenstance that put him on the same transatlantic ship as his daughter and on the same defective airplane as Joachim Hencke’s brother. The intricate plot of Homo Faber is a refutation of its own narrator’s rejection of providence in favor of belief in his own free will. An elaborate structure of flashbacks, crosscuts, and other jumps in time implicates every detail in everything else. As in Greek tragedy, the denouement is apparent in the exposition. From the beginning, there is no question that, for all of his technological prowess, Walter Faber is enmeshed in a mechanism from which he is powerless to escape.

Appropriate to the style of a professional rationalist, Homo Faber is subtitled “A Report,” but Walter, who dislikes novels and is uncomfortable with “literary” flourishes, is as unsuccessful in the role of verbal engineer as he is in designing his own life. The narrative is presented in two parts: The first, written in Caracas, where Walter has gone after the death of Sabeth, recounts the events from April through June, while the...

(The entire section is 439 words.)