Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The Music of Chance is a good example of a modern existential novel. Existentialism is based on the contention that existence precedes essence; in other words, that the meaning of life is revealed in the process of living. In the novel, Nashe is shown initially as the model of the existential hero who sets out on an odyssey with a plan of where he is going but with no idea what he will encounter. Sheer coincidence causes him to meet up with Pozzi, who would not have been bleeding by the side of the road if bad luck had not put him in the path of thugs. When Nashe and Pozzi agree to cooperate, they are making an existential decision to take what they know of reality and put it to the test, for a card game is a classic example of a test of will and hope and chance.

Fate then deals them a severe blow when they lose the poker game, for it puts them at the mercy of Flower and Stone. The building of the wall is another classic existential touch. The wall serves no purpose; it divides a field diagonally instead of enclosing it, it obscures the view, and it is an obstacle to crossing the field. It is simply there, a thing to be worked on for no reason whatsoever. Initially, Nashe and Pozzi are well aware of this, but after a while they form an attachment to the wall, and when Murks offers to make their work easier by bringing in machinery, they refuse, insisting on building the wall the “traditional” way. Eventually, they forget even to question the wall. Ultimately, the wall represents existential freedom. As opposed to the aimless driving around the country that gives the illusion of freedom but ends up turning the driver into the driven, the building of the wall is so routine that it actually leads to an intellectual freedom that is really the only true freedom.