Themes and Meanings

The principal theme of Operetta is one that preoccupied Witold Gombrowicz throughout his career. He defined it clearly in the first volume of his Dziennik (1957; Diary: Volume I, 1988). Writing in 1954, and at the height of the Cold War, Gombrowicz said that the “real battle in culture” is not the conflict between opposing worldviews—communist versus Roman Catholic, for example. Rather,the most important, most extreme, and most incurable dispute is that waged in us by two of our most basic strivings; the one that desires form, shape, definition and the other, which protests against shape and does not want form. Humanity is constructed in such a way that it must define itself and then escape from its own definition. Reality is not something that allows itself to be completely contained in form.

In his various works Gombrowicz approached this conflict from different angles. In Operetta, the conflict between form and reality is expressed in the opposition between clothing and nakedness.

In one important respect the treatment of this theme in Operetta differs from Gombrowicz’s treatment of it in his other works. In most of his writings, while insisting that the individual must continue to struggle against the confinements of form, Gombrowicz nevertheless stresses the futility of the quest for authenticity. He shows how rebellions against form quickly harden into mere forms themselves. In Operetta, however, the triumphant resurrection of Albertynka concludes the action with a striking image of youth, of eros, and of unconstrained authenticity.