Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Sabbath’s involvement with Drenka gives a glimpse of the dark side of his personality, which clearly dominates the book. He is the quintessential twentieth century man for whom there is no value or meaning in the world, who is without a creed or system of beliefs, who fumbles in the dark and screams in the void. Other critics have pointed to Franz Kafka as a source for Roth, but there is a closer relationship between Roth and Samuel Beckett. Typically, Beckett’s characters not only have no place to go but have also lost the ability to be mobile. They literally either cannot move or can barely move. This physical paralysis reflects their psychological paralysis and their metaphysical despair. Life for them is a void. They live suspended in time, outside history, with nothing to do but contemplate the meaninglessness of existence and the futility of living. Sabbath would feel right at home in such a setting. When at the end of Sabbath’s Theater he dismisses suicide by remarking, “Why should I leave? Everything I hate is here,” he could easily be one of Beckett’s antiheroes.

There is no escaping the theme of sexual perversity that dominates the book. Sabbath is a man of prodigious sexual appetite who is totally faithless to the women he loves. His single consuming desire is to have sex with any woman who appeals to him. Consequently, he loses his two wives, one who disappears mysteriously, another who turns into an alcoholic. His...

(The entire section is 413 words.)