The most pervasive theme of The Unnamed is humanity’s struggle against death. The novel’s title is especially significant to this theme. Tim’s disease, which forces him to inordinately strain his body, ultimately causes his death. His illness does not have a name, which furthers his psychological discomfort. Tim once told one of his doctors that he would rather have a fatal illness like Lou Gehrig’s disease, because then he could “understand.” The doctor responded, “Do you think you understand Lou Gehrig’s?” No one truly knows the name or nuances of what will kill them, and healthy people and individuals diagnosed with a fatal disease all have one thing in common: inevitable death. Despite this bleak knowledge, most people are driven by the instinct to survive. Even after Tim sinks into despair after the experiment with the helmet proves to be hopeless, he is not physically capable of shooting himself. In the same scene, the narrator calls this struggle between the will to live and the will to succumb to death “so primitive that it could not be named.”
Imagery and symbols that develop the conflict between these two “wills” appear throughout the novel. As with Tim’s suicide attempt, representations of the life instinct and death instinct often appear in the same scene. For example, Tim notices and ponders about honeybees several times, wishing he knew more about them. Traditionally in literature, bees represent love and life: they pollinate flowers and signify sex, spring, and rebirth. However, in the middle of the book, Tim walks through what he thinks are dead leaves, but he soon discovers the ground is covered with dead bees. In another scene, Tim and Jane walk through a field together. Jane sees a snake (a symbol of death and evil) and becomes terrified. The couple then drives through a rural neighborhood that has recently fallen victim to a wildfire. Tim asks his wife what she thinks of the destruction, and she says:
It’s either the world just doing its thing or something we’ve never known before.
Life is littered with many manifestations of death and destruction, some of which may be unfamiliar, but in the end, death is nothing new. Readers can see the life...
(The entire section is 929 words.)