Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

It is not the distance of time that the reader needs to appreciate the full scope of this cryptic and unusual short story, but rather aesthetic distance, for indeed it is aesthetic reality that the story seems to be about. On the most obvious level, the story can be read as a parable of the inevitable fate of trying to live life detached from the reality of social interaction and responsibility. All the guests, after all, seem to exist solely in their devotion to realms of reality apart from the social world—that is, in the world of artifacts and the frozen world of art. The narrator is allowed to survive because, as he says, he is taken up with everyday affairs; it is indeed the everyday that the Marchesa and her guests avoid and deny.

Thus, in terms of a moral-aesthetic parable, Wolfgang Hildesheimer could be pointing out the shaky foundation of such artifice and antiquity, and thus, in a grimly amusing way, illustrating how it must inevitably come crashing down like a stack of cards. Moreover, he does not here offer anything that seems more valuable to take the place of such aesthetic values, for the world of the Marchesa seems to have no social context outside itself. The story is more likely, however, to be one in which Hildesheimer, himself an artist, an art critic, and a stage designer, seems to be creating a world of pure decor and unreality, a world of artifice, for no other reason than to play with aesthetic reality.

The problem is...

(The entire section is 424 words.)