Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

In The Waterfalls of Slunj, as in Doderer’s earlier novels, the imagery of water is an effective and powerful motif. More than simply a metaphor for life, water is presented as a primordial force which exerts a profound influence on the work’s prominent characters. Throughout Doderer’s tales, likable characters are directly equated with water (often running water), while the inept who refuse to experience life to its fullest—those confined to what Doderer calls the “second reality”—are separated and paralyzed by the “wall of water.”

The differences between the leading characters, Robert and Donald, are reflected in their relationships with water. The story opens with Robert and Harriet experiencing emotional ecstasy at the sight of the waterfalls of Slunj. Here, Robert makes contacts for an adventuresome, fulfilling career, and Donald is conceived.

Unlike his father, Donald spends his entire life in that “second reality” of emotional barrenness. His inability to achieve true selfhood is metaphorically expressed through his relationship with water. As a child, Donald’s nurse sings to him by a lake on his grandfather’s estate. The lake, however, brings not peace but nightmares:The lake had reared up as though swinging on a horizontal axis: its once flat, gleaming surface became a terrifyingly towering, sheer wall of water, immeasurably high. There it was, directly outside the windows of the room where Donald...

(The entire section is 516 words.)