The narrator, a middle-aged man, rather neurotic, fascinated, intrigued, and finally obsessed with the relationship between his neighbors, an old man and his daughter. Like a detective, he spies on them constantly. To catch them in unguarded moments, he hides under stairways, peeks through windows, follows them in the street, and accosts them in museums and restaurants. He both delights in and shrinks from the drama between the two. He senses a love-hate relationship between them but experiences a similar, almost magnetic attraction to them followed by repulsion. Following psychoanalysis, he thinks himself cured of his obsession and travels to distract himself. When he visits a museum in Amsterdam and views the Portrait of an Unknown Man, the problem returns in full force. The portrait strikes him as a revelation: The eyes and face are strong and dominating, but the body is vague and indistinct. To him, it is the mirror of the old man and his daughter, seemingly dominant personalities who are actually shapeless, gluey masses of desires and passions. As he renews his spying, he feels an undercurrent of anxiety, unconsciously recognizing a resemblance between the daughter’s parasitic clinging to her father and his own dependent relationship to his parents. He too wears a mask that he calls personality.
The Father, an eccentric, miserly, self-made man, a sadomasochist, terrorizing those around him with fits of rage but...
(The entire section is 616 words.)