Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

A recurrent theme in many of Aldous Huxley’s stories concerns a person who is trapped in a problem beyond his or her control. Most of these stories were written in the 1920’s and early 1930’s as fascism was spreading throughout Europe and war loomed on the horizon. The predicament in which Huxley’s characters find themselves reflects the frustration experienced by many Europeans of that period. Guido’s world serves as a microcosm of European history at the time that Huxley wrote.

The character of Guido also represents the universal conflict between intellect and instinct, or between regimentation and unfettered genius. Standing in opposition to Guido’s natural creativity are such figures as Signora Bondi herself and the fascist government to which repeated allusions are made in the story. In choosing his favorite pieces among the narrator’s records, for example, Guido gives strong preference to Bach, Mozart, and Ludwig von Beethoven—who are viewed by Huxley as composers who achieved the proper balance between natural beauty and mathematical perfection—and he dislikes Richard Wagner, Claude Debussy, and Richard Strauss—who are identified by Huxley with the fascists or with debased emotionalism. In using Florence as a setting and in contrasting northern European “intellect” with southern European “instinct,” “Young Archimedes” explores many of the same themes found in E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View (1908).