Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The novel opens with a meticulous depiction of Region. The landscape is harsh, inhospitable, and unproductive. The winter is so severe that “the corpses of dogs who die in December don’t decompose until the month of May,” and the summer is so hot and dry that“the dogs who die during those burning months (and sometimes they die hanged, suspended from trees, like sacks of grain, their visceral mass all gathered in their hindquarters) are mummified in a couple of nights and are preserved like dried fish over the whole dry spell to serve as food for the creatures that come down from the mountains with the first snow.”

The shepherds are savage and brutish, and the forested hills are so labyrinthine that they devour anyone who strays into them, subjecting him to the cruel and undisputed authority of Numa. The hostile setting, in which the individual is easily crushed, frames the struggle between the personality or spirit and outside forces, which is a major theme of the novel.

In Region, the individual is in constant danger of annihilation. Often that individual disappears. In the “conversation” between Marre and Dr. Sebastian, antecedents are often missing. Often it is not clear who is speaking. Some characters, such as the boy and the ferry woman, have no names. Mr. Rombal’s name has numerous variations. Marre’s name is mentioned so rarely that she seems almost without identity.

For Juan Benet’s characters, the struggle for the self requires the subjugation of reason to emotion. Reason is associated with order, conformity, compliance, while emotion is the chaos at the core of the personality. That is why Marre’s liberation requires that she rebel against authority and give vent to the senses. In the urgent struggle to affirm the identity, however, the identity is often lost as the individual sinks into an abyss of explanations.

Benet’s style, which is confused and often tedious, serves to emphasize the disorientation and tedium of the characters. Like the traveler in Region, who “will...

(The entire section is 839 words.)