Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 434

If the reader has difficulties identifying a plot, discerning characters, and making sense of the chronological sequence of events, an even more difficult task awaits anyone who seeks meaning in what Robbe-Grillet has said is a novel without “signification.” The descriptive style in this piece has as its purpose the stripping away of all metaphor, all symbolism, all universality, to reduce (or, some critics would say, return) all objects to their objectivity. According to the principles of writing that Robbe-Grillet follows, the universe is “neither significant nor absurd. It is, quite simply.”

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Given the scholar’s predilection, however, for finding meaning in all literary utterances, it is clear that there are several labyrinths, a structure ubiquitous in Western literature from the time of Theseus and the Minotaur, in the landscape of Robbe-Grillet’s novel. The most obvious labyrinth in the novel, the city streets, is the site of most of the soldier’s and boy’s actions; a minor labyrinth, the hallways and doorways of private dwellings, completes the landscape. Less obvious, but apparent on closer inspection, is the meandering of the chronological sequence, which is further confused by the narrator’s use of the present tense, linking events only with such ambiguous phrases as “and now.”

Yet the act of inventing or constructing a life story, the activity of the narrator, is also the act of writing a novel, and the labyrinth closest to being understood in this metaphorical sense is the limitless ability of the author himself to turn the events of his novel in any direction that suits him. In fact, in many ways the entire novel is a discussion of the process of writing a novel. The narrator often gives signals, such as “this scene” or “again,” that indicate that he is returning to a point in his narrative at which corrections or variations are required and that demonstrate the flexibility of his invention.

Finally, Robbe-Grillet’s whole theory of novel-writing returns to this simple point: Writing is an artificial activity in which stories are constructed with complete fluidity, answering neither to scientific physical principles nor to historical traditions of “plot,” “character,” and the like. The novel is a creation, unique and irreproducible, which takes its form from its own facticity. In this regard, the New Novel of Robbe-Grillet is the correct form for telling the existential world its own story. More than an exercise in the destruction of traditional forms, Robbe-Grillet’s novels offer a fresh view of the phenomenological universe, discernible (by definition) only through perceptions, void of signification beyond—but infinitely variable and fascinating within—the senses.

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