Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

“When, if not now?” is the final question asked by the narrator. It is a question that echoes throughout the memoir. Christa asks it in the letter that she writes to her sister when she is contemplating suicide. The question probes not only toward the purpose of a life but also toward the enjoyment of a life. Christa resists identification and labeling because she enjoys the idea of possibilities, of choices. Choosing or, more essentially, naming closes off possibilities and fixes reality. She longs to write but fears the definiteness of the act. The process of seeing anew is all-important to her—in her academic career, in her family, in the construction of her house, in her writing, and in her living.

This ambivalence about the nature of the word, of language, and of naming necessarily translates itself into the task of the narrator. She also must resist labeling Christa in the process of re-creating her life. The life of Christa, an unheroic woman, is crucial because the narrator discovers in her life an openness to experience and a refusal to categorize that are the underpinnings of a noncoercive search for life’s values within oneself. The narrator involves the reader in this learning toward self-awareness. The fragmented, analytical discourse and thoroughly subjective stance of the narrator further serve to underline and affirm the restless, questioning nature of Christa T.