Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Critics have argued both sides of the question as to whether iDEATH is Heaven or Hell. Only a few have recognized the paradoxical nature of Brautigan’s statement. Rational discourse in the Western world establishes absolutes, insists on a categorical difference between Heaven and Hell, up and down, fiction and fact, love and hate. Yet Brautigan appears to be trying to mesh the opposites, suggesting that rather than being antithetical, opposites are identical. The world is Janus-like. IDEATH is both idea (creation) and death. Life is not simply passive or violent; life and death are not contraries. Each partakes of the other. It is the separation of the two that is unnatural. In terms of the novel, watermelon sugar is also polyurethane foam.

Apparent polarities thus form the base of In Watermelon Sugar; in this respect, the novel recalls the Surrealists’ point sublime, where contraries are identified, where the “yes” and the “no” merge. It is not necessary to limit time and space as people are accustomed to doing. Time and space are one. Past and future yield to the simultaneous. In dreams, one understands that which one’s culture and language have in the past made difficult to apprehend. Thus, Brautigan’s effort to get above or beyond the language of rational discourse and to eschew ordinary novelistic techniques, where time and linear plots carry the story line, is closely tied to the meaning of In Watermelon Sugar. Form and content are also one.