Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 458

The primary theme of “Speck’s Idea” is the effect of World War II on European history. Even though the story takes place more than twenty-five years after the war’s end, its emphasis is on the fact that the war and its aftermath have left politics and views of history changed forever. The influence and ideas of fascism are present throughout the story and in the society within which Speck moves. Speck’s wife, leaving him, hurls the label “fascist” out the window of the taxi. Later on, Speck shouts “fascist” at Lydia Cruche from the window of a bus.

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Speck ponders history; he desires to understand it. He reflects “there was right and right. . . . Nowadays the Paris intelligentsia drew new lines across the past, separating coarse collaborators from fine-drawn intellectual Fascists.” The Resistance is no longer chic. Speck himself is clearly seduced by the stability and respectability of conservatism. However, he is infinitely adaptable, regretting that his intellect tends to wander toward imagination, even metaphysics. Throughout the story, Speck changes his plans as needed. In fact, a remarkable aspect of the story is the opening premise that Speck is writing history to fit his own needs. He creates the artist’s biography, then he finds an artist who fits the needed profile. However, he does not expect to sign his program notes. Speck will write history, but he will let a conservative and safe politician take credit for his work. Speck cares more about security than he does about asserting his identity.

Conservatism and fascism are connected with money and commerce throughout the story. Speck calls Lydia a fascist at the moment when he realizes that she is not a helpless, pathetic widow after all. In fact, she has a way with money; she has bested him in a business transaction. Money and business are more important than art to this art dealer. As he meditates on the changing definition of fascism, he considers the dreary economy and the declining art market. “His feeling for art stopped short of love; it had to.” His attitude toward art is cool, efficient, and professional.

The story does end on a somewhat hopeful note, however, after implying that there is at least a bit of the fascist in each of the main characters. Lydia Cruche has a change of heart. “’Milan is ten times better for money than Paris,’ she said. ’If that’s what we’re talking about. But of course we aren’t.’” Speck begins to rewrite his notes once again, but this time he will sign them himself. In a moment of clarity, Speck takes credit for his idea, which now begins to transcend narrow-minded conservatism as the story ends with an image of crossing borders.

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