Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Recapturing lost origins—of man himself, as well as of his art, his language, and his history—is a central theme in The Lost Steps. Yet, as both the title and the conclusion of the novel suggest, such a recuperation is impossible. The narrator is driven by the need to discover in the past some essential truth about himself and his culture but is prevented from doing so by his commitment to the present. Thus, in the final pages of the novel, he comes to the realization that “the only human race to which it is forbidden to sever the bonds of time is the race of those who create art.” The novel examines the relationship between the artist and his creation, as the narrator-protagonist struggles to find a balance between his desire for an audience for the Threnody and his painful awareness of the pitfalls of perverting his creation to suit an uncomprehending public.

The Lost Steps presents a Spenglerian view of modern civilization as decadent and moribund, especially when contrasted with the exuberant fertility of the New World jungle, although, given the truncated nature of the narrator’s idyll in Santa Monica de los Venados, the novel cannot be read as a Utopian romance. The narrative is divided among three readily distinguishable locales—the modern city, a civilized zone in Latin America, and the marvelous and mysterious jungle—in the manner of many works which trace a symbolic journey, and the epigraphs which...

(The entire section is 409 words.)