Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Much of the interpretation of the story is done by the narrator himself; it is a story about his “knowledge,” which he asserts is not simply opinion but truth. The story operates on a high level of generality. There are no dynamic relations between individual characters, but instead a single point of view (the narrator uses the first-person singular pronoun) looking out at a broad variety of details and people that make up the world. This world is referred to by the title; it is far more important than any single character or living human being, with the exception of the narrator.

The reader will quickly notice that this “world” has two somewhat contradictory qualities: It is both light—ready to dissolve like a soap bubble, insignificant and senseless—and it is heavy, intractable, difficult to grasp, a “world of stone.” Other descriptions of this cosmic world fall midway between these two poles: It is an overripe pomegranate, a cosmic gale, a huge whirlpool, a weird snarl, and gigantic stew. This contradiction is one of the most intriguing features of the story. The interpretation of this world, and resolution of Tadeusz Borowski’s contradiction, is one of the reader’s thorniest tasks. Something is missing, or withheld. There is an irrational element in the story that Borowski partly confronts, and although he stops short of full clarity, this confrontation is one of the most moving concerns of the story. The dominant impression of the narrator’s observations of the outside world is not really one of lightness or even “indifference,” as the author suggests, but one of disgust. When Borowski claims that the narrator feels “irreverence bordering almost on contempt,” he has already created an attitude of full de facto contempt that borders, rather, on hatred. It is not the world, “this weird snarl,” that is weird, but the narrator’s attitude. What, then is the “stone” of “the world of stone”—what does the author mean by his title? The author does not...

(The entire section is 819 words.)