Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The two main themes in Peanik are the persecution of the Jews in World War II and the more universal suffering that runs throughout human history. Persecution has become Ki’s main theme. In Peanik, however, as always, he is less concerned with the concrete description of persecution than he is with the impact it has on its victims. Eduard Sam is just as innocent as all the other Jews who perished in the Holocaust, but somehow his demise bears even greater pathos. He is an intelligent, gifted, harmless man who benefits mankind, if in no other way simply by being different from most people—always a refreshing phenomenon. The fact that he knows in advance of his fate and does nothing to prevent it speaks for his innocence and basic inability to commit violence. Describing the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse as four gendarmes on white horses, he is convinced that “they will come, for sure...I hear the neighing of their horses. And I hear as the plumes on their black hats flutter in the wind.” A short time later, he laments, “Everything else will be wiped out by the night, and my letter will not be sent, my handwriting will be dead at dawn in the dead sea of time, a decomposed papyrus in the decayed swamp of the Panonian Sea.” These fatalistic utterances speak for the millions senselessly slaughtered in the twilight of demented gods.

Eduard Sam’s sacrifice stands for much more than the persecution of the Jews in World War II. Ki sees in it a universal theme: the tragic suffering of humans in the struggle against one another, be it caused by race, religion, politics, or greed. Whenever people forsake understanding, compassion, and respect for individual human beings, suffering is inevitable. This implicit message is unobtrusive yet just as poignant as the more explicit one. The author is willing to let his personal tragedy serve as a constant reminder that the step between civilization and barbarism is often a small one, that the victim can be the most innocent person, and that the persecutor can be found where he is least expected.