Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 473

“The White Horse” is about the search for inspiration and for meaning in life. Suffering from terrible depression, Ad Magic tries to obliterate himself with drugs and alcohol in order to escape from his life. He is afflicted with a form of epilepsy that causes him to regularly disappear from his normal life and wander the globe. He has found himself in places such as Zanzibar; American Samoa; Lima, Peru; and Lusaka, Zambia. Ad Magic explains that he essentially runs away whenever he feels a complete hatred for the world. Once on his journeys, he begins to find some inner peace only when he starts thinking about something other than himself, for example, when he takes care of a white horse that has been abandoned on the beach, and, indirectly, a young boy who wanders there as well.

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Though Ad Magic realizes early in the story that he has had another relapse and that clues to his identity are at his hotel room, he avoids returning there, back to his life. He appears to be a figure of humor, spending his money wildly, but his connections with the white horse and the young boy enable Ad Magic to become a protector. His ability to create is connected to a purpose deeper than just selling things.

In the story, the white horse reminds Ad Magic of a white horse that figured in the final emotional breakdown of European philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. (In 1889, Nietzsche saw a man beating a white horse in the street. Nietzsche threw his arms around the neck of the horse to save its life.) However, instead of figuring in deepening emotional problems for Ad Magic, the horse and its survival connect Ad Magic with his identity, a sense of creative magic, and a meaning in life.

“A White Horse” is also about pain and the struggle to escape it. As the doctor explains to Ad Magic: “Animals don’t experience pain in the same fashion humans. . . . Pain for humans is memories, anticipation, imagination.” Ad Magic’s amnesia causes him to experience the pain of life in much the same way that the doctor argues an animal does. When Ad Magic disappears on one of his fugues, he lives without memories. The memories in this story are painful for Ad Magic; they are of people who loved him but are no longer alive. He recalls events and places, but the kind people within his memories have no faces. The settings of these memories are vivid, and his emotional attachment to these people—a doctor and perhaps his father—is strong, but his ability to truly recall them is limited.

By the end of the story, Ad Magic has reconnected with the deep, unconscious sources of inspiration, and he has shifted from the one who needs care to the person caring for others.

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