Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

I’m Not Stiller clearly follows in the existentialist tradition, which holds that individuals must define themselves rather than allow themselves to be defined by others. When five of Stiller’s friends visit him, each sees a different Stiller, but none can see the true one. In his visit to America, Stiller observes a black family at a refined social gathering in which the blacks are reduced to a parody of middle-class whites. As destructive as defining one’s self in the eyes of another is basing one’s life on a false code. For example, Stiller tries to live by a Hemingwayesque code of masculinity even though he has a feminine personality, and Rolf bases his marriage on a false code which forces him to deny his emotions.

In Stiller’s world, it is difficult to find one’s true self. In an age of mass communications, replications have replaced authentic experiences, and the life of the modern individual is a collage of secondhand experiences gleaned from newspapers, books, and television. In Stiller’s dream, even the act of crucifying an individual has been reduced to the ceremony of nailing that person’s photograph to a tree. I’m Not Stiller speaks to a modern audience living in a world in which prefabricated images are confused with human personalities. As Stiller points out, the human soul cannot be discovered in a photo album, nor can a person’s inner being be found in a resume.