The Shipyard belongs to that large group of contemporary novels which express loss of self. Onetti, however, is less radical than some of his contemporaries—a Samuel Beckett, for example—in his creation of depersonalized characters. The denizens of The Shipyard may have only an initial for a first name, but their selfhood acquires enough unity to make nearly round characters of them. Onetti sustains character and situation even as the text is expressing, directly or indirectly, that the characters are not persons, have no real identity.
Larsen is the antihero of both The Shipyard and Onetti’s 1964 novel, Juntacadaveres. (Only in this later novel were the events preceding the action of The Shipyard and the nickname “Corpse-collector” fully explained: Larsen, then manager of Santa Maria’s first and only brothel, put together a collection of metaphorically dead female bodies.) The intense third-person account of Larsen’s thought process in The Shipyard reveals the stubborn deliberateness and absurd logic that rule his self-defeating outward actions. With his low-life swagger, carrying his concealed pistol, Larsen walks through interpersonal roles that are models of deception and self-deception. Long experience in the lower depths should perhaps have left him thoroughly cynical before the action of The Shipyard begins. Like most Onettian protagonists, he does have a good dose of cynicism, but he is also a kind of degraded artist, even an oblique projection of the author. In the most hopeless circumstances, he resorts to his imagination in order to project a better world. Despite the many ironies that undermine conventional characterization, real sympathy is generated for Juntacadaveres Larsen, whose nickname identifies him as a vestigial exemplary sufferer, a post-Christian Jesus Christ.
The other male characters may all be...
(The entire section is 786 words.)