Themes and Meanings

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.)