Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The three fundamental themes of Infante’s Inferno are remembrance, the transformational powers of the imagination, and the hardships of love—or, rather, of lust. More than a creation, the novel is a re-creation which takes full advantage of the disadvantages of the transient, forgettable nature of things past in order to create the fiction: “Perhaps she never had a permanent or straight hair,” argues the narrator while referring to one of his many idols, “but I have to be faithful to my memory even though I may betray me.” Faithful to it, at least, he always is.

The entire action takes place in a deceptive present which looks forward to a future while actually taking place in the past. The mature narrator looks over his shoulder to the child he no longer is (the title in Spanish is literally “Havana for a dead infant,” an allusion to the irretrievability of youth—the author’s patronymic means “infant”—as well as to Maurice Ravel’s musical composition Pavane for a Dead Infant). Because all action harks back to the past, life in this novel is a primal screen of sorts, filled with sex and films and signifying the—perhaps illusory, undoubtedly elusive—quality of life. To underscore this quality, Cabrera Infante turns to his real-life passion for film, both in his search for form (the novel is a series of vignettes or still compositions) and as a metaphor of the ephemeral: Films, like life, are made up of...

(The entire section is 586 words.)