Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 11, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 915

The theme that dominates A Meditation is the search for the self. Yet this search is doomed from the beginning, because it is expressed through words, and words are inadequate tools of communication: “two people who talk and understand each other by making use of the same words often see two different spectacles inside themselves, neither of which emerges into the other’s view and only occasionally giving origin to an emotion that is analogous and shared.” Furthermore, the I who remembers is not the same person who experienced the incident, for the individual is ever changing; he feels “as if between my I and my memory of the I there always existed a distance that was...unbridgeable.” The narrator is alienated not only from society but also from himself. He looks at himself, especially the self that was, as though he were looking at another.

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What time does to the narrator, illness does to Mary: “[S]he walks feeling her way behind herself, concerned only with herself and rather alien to all that is going on around her; instead of sitting down to contemplate the countryside or the street she sinks into a hammock, in order, through a pair of dark glasses, to consider her impotent and painful I; and so she remains, converted into a dog of her own I.” Mary is so immersed in her own pain that she sniffs around it like a dog, observing it and examining it until “it” becomes a separate entity and “the solution of continuity between beast and fear disappears.” Once the primal fear is gone, Mary “is no longer a person of this world,” for existential terror is at the center of human existence.

If self-analysis offers no solutions, neither does science. Cayetano Corral observes that “psychology with the pretext of a better precision and differentiation of the elements it is analyzing, does nothing but introduce a radical confusion and seek what belongs to the syntactical in the analogous realm.” The knowledge that the individual desires so desperately—the knowledge of the self—constantly eludes him. In fact, there is no real knowledge, because “all knowledge is nothing but the substitute of an experience.” Thus, there is no such thing as intellectual certainty, for life is experiential, not intellectual. Self-realization requires breaking with reason and yielding to passion: “there is no true living without passion.”

Society’s role is to hold in check the passions, which, if given free rein, would lead to anarchy. Society invents rules to maintain order. Public morality is essentially a web of hypocrisy, for while the social man openly supports society’s values, the inner man constantly struggles to get free. Thus, “moral history is nothing but a chain of chimeras that go along devouring each other and subrogating their power so as never to give entry to the Individual.” Unlike adults, children readily act on impulse, without hypocrisy. The children of the Ruan clan and those of the narrator’s play together freely, while their elders invent barriers to separate the two families. It is because the authentic self is buried under the layers of hypocrisy which society imposes that the narrator dwells on his childhood, attempting to strip away the deceptions in order to approximate his early experiences.

There can be no chronological time in the novel because chronology is an ordering device, while memory conjures up images randomly. The intensity of a recollection depends on the intensity with which it was experienced; events that caused no impression fade from the memory. Time is a major preoccupation of the narrator and an obsession of Cayetano Corral. Cayetano understands that “time isn’t engendered either by stars or by clocks, but by tears,” by the pain of the individual experience that leaves its indelible mark on the memory.

Pain is at the center of all the narrator’s recollections, even the humorous ones. There are no completely happy, carefree moments in the novel. There is no real bonding between human beings, even family members. There is no real love. The relationship between father and son is defined by hatred, fear, and resentment. The biblical story of Abraham and Isaac obsesses the narrator, who repeatedly analyzes Isaac’s anger toward the father who was willing to sacrifice him. The Indian provides the archetype: “He had killed his father, as his father had done to his grandfather, as his grandfather had done to his great-grandfather; it wasn’t a matter of a tradition or a family custom, not even of a curse, but a fate repeated three or four times...nor was it, seemingly, taken into consideration by him in order to avoid engendering a son.” Alongside man’s primal dread is a destructive impulse that is directed at the father, who is the first to impose order and discipline, and also the first to inspire fear. The animosity between Jorge Ruan and his father reveals a profound resentment that takes the form of a literary rivalry between father and son.

For the writer Jorge, art, like sex, is a release from inner anguish. It is a means of getting even with his father by outperforming him. Nevertheless, writing affords Jorge no lasting joy. On the contrary, he is so negative and self-destructive that he cannot bear to talk about his work. He feels contempt for those who worship the word, for he believes, as Benet does, that words serve only to conceal that primal fear that festers below the surface.

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