Under the Net Themes
by Iris Murdoch

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Under the Net Themes

(Novels for Students)

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Unrequited Love
Jake loves Anna, who loves Hugo, who loves Sadie, who loves Jake. Like a Shakespearian drama, unrequited love weaves through Murdoch’s first novel. Jake, who claims that he does not like people and would rather stay clear of relationships, accidentally falls for Anna, and though she gives into him from time to time, she is forever elusive. Anna instead becomes enthralled with Hugo, whose mind is like a drug for Anna. His thoughts liberate and inspire her. She gives up singing (one of the skills for which Jakes loves her the most) for Hugo, who then invests in creating a theatre dedicated to mime. In return, Anna loves Hugo, but Hugo finds Anna’s sister Sadie more to his liking. Sadie is more intelligent, and Hugo becomes obsessed with capturing her. While he is aloof with Anna, he is clumsy with Sadie, to the point where Sadie fears for her safety. Sadie asks Jake to protect her from Hugo.

There are several allusions to silence. The name of the only book that Jake has published is called The Silencer, and it is based mostly on Hugo’s thoughts and philosophy (who in turn reflects the concepts of Austrian philosopher Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein, who professed the inability of language to express the deepest and most significant thoughts). The theme of silence is also apparent in Anna’s mime theatre, where the actors do not speak and the audience is asked not to applaud. Jake likes his steady companion Finn because Finn hardly ever speaks. Even Mister Mars, the movie-star dog, never barks, not even when Jake and Finn are stealing him.

Jake, who makes a living translating French novels into English, finds himself unable to communicate when he goes to Paris, putting him into yet another form of silence. The value of silence is summed up in a conversation between Hugo and Jake when Hugo says, “For most of us, for almost all of us, truth can be attained, if at all, only in silence.”

There is also the role that Jake plays out as a writer. Throughout the novel, he never speaks with his own voice in his work. Instead he translates the novels of another author, a man Jake criticizes for being a mediocre writer. Jake’s only published work is another type of translation, as he all but transcribes conversations he had with Hugo. Jake is embarrassed about having published this book. He feels as if he has stolen the work from Hugo, since the basic tenets of the book are not his own. It is not until the end of the novel, after Jake has been challenged by the award that the French author Breteuil has won, that Jake attempts to create a voice of his own.

Artist versus Saint
Several critics have pictured the relationship between Jake and Hugo as one of artist versus saint. The role of the artist is to communicate ideas, to put them into some kind of form. The saint, on the...

(The entire section is 762 words.)