Waiting for the End of the World by Madison Smartt Bell

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Waiting for the End of the World Themes

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The primary theme of this novel is the protagonist's struggle to discern good from evil and to choose the former while overcoming the latter. Initially Larkin appears to be truly the disinterested character, little concerned about self-preservation. He also claims to avoid involvement with others; however, he repeatedly attempts, usually with limited success, to rescue people in trouble, and as his repressed memory illustrates, he has tried — in one case, literally — to "break through" to people such as Karin and Sybil. Further, Larkin is drawn to fire; Arkady refers to his apocalyptic obsessions and fantasies. In fact, Larkin is obsessed with the question of redemption; as one of his demons insists, he believes that he possesses a great soul and so must also be a great sinner. Certainly the issues of sin and redemption are central to this novel.

A secondary theme is the thin line between sanity and madness. Manuela and Hector obviously are mad. Simon's obsession with power is a kind of monomania; Mercer and Hutton too display signs of insanity; and Ruben's behavior certainly suggests that he is emotionally unstable. Nevertheless, these men are capable of functioning on a day-today basis. Larkin also manages to survive on the street, although his depression and his apocalyptic obsessions drive him to the edge of insanity and at times his mental stability seems questionable at best.

Finally, though, the theme of this novel is precisely what the title suggests: man's wait for the end of the world. Larkin tells Dutch that he has literally been killing time for the past five years, and he joins Simon's cell because he hopes to precipitate the final cataclysm by an act of overwhelming and unspeakable violence. Finally, though, he conquers his demons, asserts his basic humanity, and thwarts Simon's plot. In the novel's denouement (resolution) he recognizes that the plot "wasn't the end of the world, after all. . . . It was only the end of me." He then describes to Arkady the balance that he sees in the universe: "I'm going to die. . . . It evens out, though. I just got through killing a lot of other people. I can't complain."

The primary theme of this novel is the protagonist's struggle to discern good from evil and to choose the former while overcoming the latter. Initially Larkin appears to be truly the disinterested character, little concerned about self-preservation. He also claims to avoid involvement with others; however, he repeatedly attempts, usually with limited success, to rescue people in trouble, and as his repressed memory illustrates, he has tried — in one case, literally — to "break through" to people such as Karin and Sybil. Further, Larkin is drawn to fire; Arkady refers to his apocalyptic obsessions and fantasies. In fact, Larkin is obsessed with the question of redemption; as one...

(The entire section is 712 words.)