Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Remembering the time, place, and atmosphere of childhood is a central theme in the Silesian tetralogy. The author is able to recapture the sensual qualities, the sounds and smells, as well as the myths, religious qualities, language mixture, and history of a region no longer accessible for the people who fled it after the war. The motifs of Leo Maria’s photography, Montag’s life’s work (the Korfanty biography), and the almost filmic quality of the remembered image of a bygone milieu underscore one purpose of the novel: to give permanence to a fleeting moment in history. The task of the writer is summarized in the magistrate Montag’s allegorical story about the three bridges over the Klodnitz River: All are destroyed, and only one bridge, made of paper, leads the people who trust it across the water. Bienek thus builds such a bridge made of paper into the past by writing against the inevitable floods of forgetfulness. The most predominant theme, however, is the analysis of the everyday Fascism which slowly eroded the already well-worn moral fiber of average citizens in the days preceding World War II.

Another major concern in the tetralogy is to show the unheroic side of wartime existence, with its quiet, unspectacular catastrophes. Gunfire can be heard only in the background, and death reaches the town only in the form of letters informing the families about the deaths of husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers killed in action.


(The entire section is 554 words.)