Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Episodes in contemporary Polish life (waiting in line) and historical episodes (the two long flashbacks on the nineteenth century revolutionaries) are juxtaposed to Konwicki’s philosophical musings and analyses in the book. Even a letter, thinly disguised as being from someone from another country, is inserted into the book. The people who are waiting in line seem to be a random assortment of individuals. They have little purpose, certainly no long-term goals, just as the novel has no conventional plot. The evening progresses and the action seems pointless. Because there are no transitions in the novel, no introductions or explanations of gaps in time, character, or mode, the effect is fragmentation and loose ends. Life is a kaleidoscope of vividly depicted and intensely realized scenes, but it has little meaning.

What replaces a sense of meaning in life is Poland—not the real, but the ideal, the possible, potential Poland. Defeated, humiliated, and debased as far back in history as one cares to look, there yet remains the faintest spark of hope for a better future. This hope for Poland is revealed not directly or explicitly, but in some of Konwicki’s most lyrical passages, where he warmly describes domestic scenes and evokes Polish customs, such as the breaking and sharing of the wafer on Christmas Eve. The anonymous “friend” writes,When inwardly I say that one short word “Poland,” a wistful exaltation arises in me, something clear, free, soothing; Poland, homeland of freedom; Poland, lair of tolerance; Poland, that great garden of rampant individualism. Where people greet each other with a smile, where a policeman lifts a rose instead of a club, where the air is made of oxygen and truth. Poland the great white eagle in the center of Europe.

Contrast with the tawdry reality of contemporary Poland is inescapable, yet the longing for what might be persists to lift the spirit and encourage perseverance. The dream for Poland is freedom. The Christmas miracle that Konwicki awaits this cold Christmas Eve, standing in line outside a jewelry store, may...

(The entire section is 852 words.)