Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Each of the principal characters is a personification of the human longing that becomes its own satisfaction to the extent that it resists or eliminates any expectation of its being satisfied by a divine agent. Diana longs for the hunt and the wilderness life that Tobias has denied her. She dies happily in the context of the hunt as sacrificial prey to the powers that would deny Tobias the full experience of his longing. Her death is like the demise of the Greco-Roman pantheon in the advance of the Christian deity, who came to be worshipped as the end of human longing and the savior of human souls; in Lagerkvist’s view, however, Jesus is the savior of human longing. Ahasuerus and Giovanni long to elude deity and to do so ultimately through death, which Ahasuerus identifies as the holy land. Tobias longs for this same holy land, but for him it is also love. Tobias’ death is representative of what Martin Heidegger termed the individual’s eigenst (literally, “own most”) possibility. The holy land that Tobias finds is a convergence of longing and death, a convergence informed by fullkomlig (true or perfect) love, not the love of Christ or of any deity, but the love that Jesus exemplified.