Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Carpentier’s work frequently expresses an incisive criticism of modern society. His best-known novel, Los pasos perdidos (1953; The Lost Steps, 1956, 1967), chronicles the efforts of a man to rediscover his humanity after being alienated from a society devoted to ambition and greed. A Cuban writer, Carpentier criticizes postcolonial and capitalist society not through preaching but through storytelling, allowing his Everyman characters to experience the depths of their victimhood and discontent in order to find a way out.

The narrator of “Like the Night” is at such a crucial point. He is about to take on warriorhood for the good of his society, but beneath the public promises lies economic self-interest, such as the possibility of a better trade with Asia after the Trojans are eliminated as competition. For the narrator, his adventuring involves more than merely expending his youthful energy. It has consequences for his parents, of whom he begins to be mindful, and for his fiancé, whose real passion exposes the confusion and doubt beneath his bravado. The narrator’s relations with women—with his mother, fiancé, and mistress—are determined by the same false idealism and baseness that have moved him to go to war. He departs at exactly the wrong moment, when he begins to realize his victimhood and loses all heart for the ordeal he has chosen.