Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Hamsun’s purpose in this and other novels is not so much to interpret but to dramatize convincingly the role of the irrational and the subconscious in human behavior. In Pan, Hamsun employs mythological allusions as well as dream material to universalize Glahn’s plight. He recognizes that man’s inability to discover and to reconcile the full range of human motivation often leads to tragedy.

Dreams and musings involving obscure legendary figures—Iselin, Diderik, Dundas, and Stamer—give the reader access to Glahn’s thinly disguised sexual wishes. In these passages and others, Hamsun uses an evocative, poetic style. He allows the suggestions of his rich imagery to conjure the direction and intensity of his characters’ longings. Hamsun’s pursuit of subjective truths makes such a style appropriate, and he is a master of it.

Similarly, Hamsun’s decision to have Glahn tell his own story rests on the subjective orientation. One feels the experience as Glahn remembers it, but one also sees Glahn more clearly than he sees himself. One purpose of the second narrator is to give the reader another perspective on Glahn. This device succeeds, even though one must filter one’s perceptions through an extremely biased source. With two subjective perspectives on his main character, both of them self-interested and self-justifying, Hamsun has insisted that there is little certainty. The texture of passionate experience, however, has been convincingly rendered.