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In the preceding chapter, we demonstrated the use of irony in Barthelme's early works and his theories about irony and satire by focusing mainly on hid distinguished short story, "Kierkegaard Unfair to Shlegel", and then we explained different viewpoints concerning irony. Our purpose in this chapter is twofold: to show how this viewpoint is maintained in his novel, Snow White, and to consider the thematic concerns of the novel in order to show the affinity between our formula and these thematic concerns.
Snow White, first published in The New Yorker in 1965 and then, in 1967 in a slightly different form, is Barthelme's first, and thus far, his most distinguished and celebrated novel. The plot of Snow White is based on a fairy tale of that name, and the characters are vaguely analogous to those found in the fairy tale. Snow White does not have a plot in a realistic mode, but there is a story somehow, which serves as a reference for Barthelme's ironic and satiric commentary.
The protagonist of the novel is Snow White, a twenty-year-old girl who makes love to seven dwarfs- but only in the shower. She is anxious about her "role" in life, and she is also worried about finding "meaningful" goals. In her former life she had been thrilled by writing letters and reading mails, but now she reads Liberation, uses strange statements and writes existential poems. Formerly she used to wear "tight-fitting-how-the-west-was-won trousers", but now she wears "heavy blue bulky shapeless People's Volunteer trousers." Despite these circumstances, the reader, as he follows Snow White throughout the novel, and watches her growing more and more disconcerted with her life and her lovers, might envisage her as a real person with real and tangible problems. Barthelme, however, thwarts such a view. For example, by page of 16 of the novel, the reader has got many ideas about Snow White and might be inclined to see her as a real person. He has seen her general ennui, he has observed her rearranging the flowers in the house, her writing poetry, and even being the follower of Mao. Here, Barthelme interrupts to say:
THE PSYCHOLOGY OF SNOW WHITE:
IN THE FERAS OF FEARS, SHE FEARS
POISONED COMBS (SW, p.17)
These interruptive statements, by being written all in capitals on a separate page, serve to show to the reader, the author's authority and presence and to reveal him that Snow White is a contrivance of this author and therefore she is a fictional character and should not be mistaken for a real person. Moreover, when Snow White realizes that she is a fictional character, confronts the reader with further difficulty who conceives her as real. Snow White's realization that she is a fictional character comes from one point in the novel, where she condemns the world "for not being able to supply a prince. For not being able to at least be civilized enough to supply the correct ending to the story" (SW, p.132)
Barthelme's aim by thwarting the reader's temptation is not simply to assert his presence. He uses his freedom in order to increase it. By his freedom, he can reach the level in which he can violate the verisimilitude of his fiction and therefore, he is able to release himself from any commitment to make Snow White speak like anything rather than a fictional character. Thus, the reader is not surprised when he comes up with Snow White's speech like this:
"Ugh! I wish I were somewhere else! On the beach at
St. Tropez, for example, surrounded by brown boys without
a penny. Here everyone has a penny. Here everyone worships
the almighty penny. Well at least with pennies one knows what
they add up to, under the decimal system. No ambiguity there,
at least. O Jerusalem. Jerusalem! Thy daughters are burning with
torpor and a sense of immense wasted potential, like one of those
pipes you see in the oil fields, burning off the natural gas that it
isn't economically rational to ship somewhere" (SW, p.102).
The voice here is not a rational and logical voice that we can associate with a twenty-year-old woman. This is Barthelme's own voice, he can use it freely without any obligation to any standards and limitations and he is not concerned with making the speeches fit any logical and rational circumstances. Thus, his freedom to use anything without any commitment, and to include any information at will, is increased.
The dwarfs, like Snow White, are "major characters", using Barthelme's terms, although they are less developed than some of the minor characters in the novel. The names assigned to them are (Kevin, Edward, Hubert, Henry, Clem, Dan and Bill), and because of their lack of development and identity as individuals, the actions and words assigned to any of them can be assigned to others and, except Bill, the leader, they become all in all one character, and Barthelme wants the reader not to concern himself with their identities, but to concern himself with what he makes them do and say. Barthelme has assured the reader that the dwarfs are indistinguishable from one another.
The dwarf's collective identity is obvious in the narration of Snow White. There are various narrative voices which differ from first-person to third person or omniscient. Most of the time the voice that speaks is a collective voice of the seven dwarfs, with the exception of the one who is being discussed. For example, when they talk about Bill's "reluctance to be touched", the narration starts with "we": "we speculate that he doesn't want to be involved in human situation anymore" (SW, p.4). In other cases, the voice is assigned to a single dwarf, without any reason why the others have not taken it. And still in other cases, one voice is attributed to one dwarf without being identified.
The other collective behavior that these dwarfs share is that they have the same dreams. In part of the novel when Snow White's dissatisfaction has become a real threat to dwarfs, they say: "then we had a fantasy, a fantasy of anger and malevolence. We were dreaming. We dreamed we burned Snow White. Burned is not the right word, cooked is the right word. We cooked Snow White over the big fire, in the dream". (SW, p.109). This collective dream they have, destabilizes their identities as individual characters.
There are other characters in the novel and Barthelme treats them the same as Snow White and the dwarfs. Jane and Paul are two minor characters in the novel that Barthelme tries to fit them into the fairy tale and this connection with the fairy tale is clear in the quiz at the end of part one. Barthelme asks the reader: "3. Have you understood, in reading to this point, that Paul is the prince-figure? Yes ( ) No ( ). 4. That Jane is the wicked step mother figure? Yes ( ) No ( )" (SW, p.82). As the novel shows, none of the characters in Snow White fits the traditional sense of characterization. They are all type characters who represent the status of man in general, and they function to propel the theme in the novel.
Snow White is written in a self-parodic style where the use of complicated vocabulary leads to confusion and self-estrangement, and all interpretations are called off and canceled by endless qualifications. At one point, the dwarfs say: "we like books that have a lot of dreck in them, matter which presents itself as not wholly relevant (or indeed, at all relevant) but which, carefully attended to, can supply a kind of sense of what is going on" (SW, p.106). What Barthelme calls "dreck" is what Bill calls "pamby". This dreck is the key word in the novel and it is discussed in one of the chapters.
"you know, Klipschorn was right I think when he spoke of
the 'blanketing' effect of ordinary language, referring, as I
recall, to the part that sort of, you know, "fills in" between
the other parts. That part, the 'filling' you might say, of which
the expression 'you might say' is a good example, is to me the
most interesting part, and of course it might also be called the
'stuffing' I suppose, and there is probably also, in addition, some
other word that would do as well, to describe it, or maybe a
number of them. But the quality this 'stuffing' has, that the other
parts of verbality do not have, is two parted, perhaps: (1) an
'endless' quality and (2) a 'sludge' quality. Of course that is
possibly two qualities but I prefer to think of them as different
aspects of a single quality, if you can think of it that way. The
'endless' aspect of 'stuffing' is that it goes on and on, in many
different forms, and in fact our exchanges are in large measure
composed of it, in larger measure even, perhaps, than they are
composed of that which is not 'stuffing'. The 'sludge' quality
is the heaviness that this stuff hasâ€¦ (SW, p. 96).
What is clear from the above speech uttered by Dan is that he is trying to explain the dreck of language and at the same time a parodic example of it. The sludge stuffing occurs so many times on every page of the book. It shows dwarfs' main habit and also implies that they do not understand what they are saying: the concepts which they are trying to communicate are over their heads. This is clear from Dan's use of expressions like "I suppose", "perhaps", "probably also", "or maybe", "possibly", etc. Dan's speech shows the relation between language and trash. What Barthelme is trying to explain is that this trash will reach to 100 percent in our speeches in future. Therefore, as he says in the novel, "the question turns from a question of disposing of this trash to a question of appreciating its qualitiesâ€¦ (SW, p. 95).
The parodic illustration of Snow White is that, language and the whole world, in general, are 100 percent trash. "it's that we want to be on the leading edge of the trash phenomenon, the everted sphere of the future, and that's why we pay particular attention, too, to those aspects of language that may be seen as a model of the trash phenomenon" (SW, p. 97). Barthelme believes that "those aspects" of language are the only remaining aspects, and, therefore, it is necessary to appreciate their qualities. This is the convention of 20th century writers and artists who try to appreciate the qualities of trash. This is the way Barthelme tries to romanticize the ugly; he is attempting to show the trash qualities of language, admirable and appreciative.
Snow White is a novel made of episodes, in which one episode does not have any logical connection with the episodes following or preceding it. It seems impossible to line up these episodes in a linear plot, but the reader comes up with several subplots. But also these subplots are not in a linear mode. All these episodes and subplots are scattered throughout the novel. Barthelme's controlling of episodes in Snow White, has made a collage effect. It is composed of unrelated or incongruous material, but a kind of material which propels the unifying theme, when viewed in total. These materials, sometimes complicate readers' assumptions by the use of passages that are all written in capitals and set off in one page. They call abrupt attention to themselves and they serve several purposes in the novel. In one of these passages, Barthelme writes:
THE SECOND GENERATION OF ENGLISH
ROMANTICS INHERITEDE THE PROBLEMS
OF THE FIRST, BUT COMPLICATED BY THE
EVILS OF INDUSTRIALISM AND POLITICAL
REPRESSION. ULTIMATELY THEY FOUND AN
ANSWER NOT IN SOCIETY BUT IN VARIOUS
FORMS OF INDEPENDENCE FROM SOCIETY:
SPIRITUAL TRANSCENDENCE (SW, p. 24).
This passage suddenly appears after Clem's arrival in Chicago, and the reader does not make any sense of its meaning and presence until he goes to the next page and finds out that this is Snow White's education at Beaver College. By this passage, Barthelme is trying to satirize the system of education in the United States, and here he ridicules the courses given in colleges and universities.
There are other all-capital passages which have nothing to do with the concerns of the novel. For instance, Barthelme writes:
IT WAS NOT UNTIL THE 19TH CENTURY THAT
RUSSIA PRODUCED A LITERATURE WORTHY
OF BECOMING PART OF THE WORLD'S CULTURAL
HERITAGE. PUSHKIN DISPLAYED VERBAL
FACILITY. GOGOL WAS A REFORMER. AS A STYLIST
DOSTOEVSKY HAD MANY SHORTCOMINGS.
TOLSTOYâ€¦ (SW, p. 145).
This passage is reminiscent of the previous passage which discussed Snow White's education, but that passage come about one hundred pages earlier and there was no reference to Russian literature at all. This passage, and the passages like this, is what Barthelme would label them as dreck, for they are not certainly relevant to the concerns of the novel. However, it can also reveal that Barthelme is engaged with one of his favorite subjects, literature.
Barthelme manages to satirize a large number of things in Snow White. He satirizes the legal system, the media, political system, drug problems and many trash products overflowing the economy. Moreover, he satirizes the traditional literary criticism, poking fun at the idea that a real esthetic work of art is possible. And, in general, he satirizes human's condition. His satire concerning man's condition, embraces all the other satires, and by this, he implies that man is a hapless creature and is powerless to improve his situation in an effective way.
Barthelme comments upon an everyday life in America. He does this in the part when Clem visits Chicago, and after getting off the plane, he stops to regard "the Volkswagens crowding the Chicago streets, the children freaking out in their army surplus, the black grime falling from the sky", and he exclaims, "so this is the free world!" (SW, p. 22). Here, Barthelme is juxtaposing two different kinds of America, the idealized one, and the actual one, a land devastated by crucial problems, including drug abuse, air pollution and poverty.
Barthelme also satirizes the political system of his country. He uses "President" twice in his novel. At fist he writes:
The President looked out of his window. He was not very
happy. "I worry about Bill, Hubert, Kevin, Edward, Clem,
Dan and their lover, Snow White. I sense that all is not well
with them. Now, looking out over this green lawn, and these
fine rosebushes, and into the night and the yellow buildings,
and the falling Dow Jones index and the screams of the poor,
I am concerned. I have many important things to worry about,
but I worry about Bill and the boys too. Because I am The
President. Finally, The Presidents of the whole fucking country.
And they are Americans, Bill, Hubert, Henry, Kevin, Edward,
Clem, Dan and Snow White. They are Americans. My Americans.
(SW, p. 82).
Barthelme is not trying to condemn the President, but he tries to question his competency and capability. The President, hiding behind the "green lawn" and "fine rosebushes", does not worry about Snow White and the dwarfs' problems, and he is unable to do anything about but to acknowledge them. His incompetency and inability to solve the problems in America is highlighted by his appearance for the second time, where the conditions have not yet improved: "The President looked out of his window again. It was another night like that night we described previously. The Dow-Jones index was still falling. The folks were still in tatters. The President turned his mind for a millisecond to us, here.' Great balls of river mud', the President said. Is nothing going to go right?" (SW, p. 155). Barthelme believes that although a president could have all the good intentions, he is unable to help Americans solve their problems.
Furthermore, he goes on to suggest that the incompetency of elected officials, especially the president, leads to the people's mistrust of the political system. In the novel, the dwarfs tell to a group of young boys:
Your mission is this: to go out into the world and pull down
all those election posters. We have decided to stop voting, so
pull down the posters. Let's get all those ugly faces off our
streets and out of our elective offices. We are not going to vote
anymore, no matter how often they come around with their sound
trucks and statesmanlike gestures. Pull down the sound trucks.
Pull down the outstretched arms. To hell with the whole business.
Voting has turned out to be a damned impertinence. They never do
what we want them to do anyhow. And when they do what we
don't want them to do, they don't do it well. To hell with them. We
are going to save up all our votes for the near twenty years and
spend them all at one time. Maybe by that day there will be some
Rabelaisian figure worth spending them on (SW, p. 145).
This is the idea of the dwarfs, and of course, Barthelme, about the futility of voting in the United States. This is the feeling of many Americans, and it arises from the fact that what many political candidates say before an election has nothing in common with their deeds after an election, and this is the situation in which people have no control over it.
Barthelme also satirizes the drug abuse problem in America. As we discussed earlier, arriving in Chicago, Clem found that "the children freaking out" ; and two times in the novel, Barthelme shows the dwarfs' experimenting with drugs. When the dwarfs attend a party, one of them narrates that: "Clem thrust his arm into the bag of consciousness-expanding drugs. His consciousness expanded. He concentrated his consciousness upon a thumb tip. 'Is this the upper extent of knowing, this dermis that I perceive here?' then he became melancholy, melancholy as a gib cat, melancholy as a jugged bare. 'The content of the giraffe is giraffe meat. Giraffes have high blood pressure because the blood must plod to the brain up ten feet of neck.' There were more perceptions and blague' (SW, p. 116-117). This passage shows Barthelme's playful behavior toward language; "jugged" is slang for "jailed"; "gib" is used instead of "castrated". But it also expresses his feeling about the popularity of drugs as a way to expand one's mind and broaden his consciousness. Barthelme believes that the profound and deep perceptions of using drugs lead to nonsense in comparison with the sobriety which returns after that.
Edward's encounter with drugs is as disconcerting as Clem's. Barthelme writes:
Edward was blowing his mind, under the boardwalk. "well
my mind is blown now. Nine mantras and three bottles of
insect repellent, under the board-walk. I shall certainly be
sick tomorrow. But is is worth it to have a blown mind. To
stop being a filthy bourgeois for a space, even a short space.
To gain access to everything in a new way. Under the board-
walk. Those cream Corfam shoes clumping overhead. I
understand them now, for the first time. Not their molecular
structure, in which I am not particularly interested, but their
sacredness. Their centrality. They are the center of everything
those shoes. They are it. I know that, now. Too bad it is not
worth knowing. Too bad it is not true. It is not even temporarily
true. Well, that must mean that my mind is not fully blown. That
harsh critique. More insect repellent!" (SW, p. 143).
Edward is pursuing enlightenment by the use of mind-altering drugs and Barthelme suggests that it is a futile activity; at best, Edward is able to attain it temporarily until its effects wear off. Also, Barthelme is satirizing a society in which its young people are coerced to use drugs in order to be enlightened.
Another splendid use of satire in the novel is Barthelme's comment upon the economy of America, and in the novel he pokes fun at those businessmen and inventors who flood and ruin the market with their trash products. Throughout the novel we read that the dwarfs wash buildings, produce Chinese baby food and make plastic buffalo humps. When Dan supervises the factory while producing humps, he comments upon the trash products manufactured in America, in order to justify the dwarfs' deeds and their involvement in the market:
Now you are probably familiar with the fact that the pre-capita
production of trash in this country is up from 2.75 pounds per
day in 1920 to 4.5 pounds per day in 1965, the last year for
which we have figures, and is increasing at the rate of about
four percent a year. Now that rate will probably go up, because
it's been going up, and I hazard that we may very well soon
reach a point where it's 100 percent. Now at such a point, you
will agree, the question turns from a question of disposing of
this "trash" to a question of appreciating its qualities, because,
after all, it's 100 percent trash, right? And there can no longer
be any question of "disposing" of it, because it's all there is,
and we will simply have to learn how to "dig" it_ that's slang,
but peculiarly appropriate here. So that's why we're in humps,
right now, more really from a philosophical point of view than
because we find them a great moneymaker. They are "trash", and
what in fact could be more useless or trashlike? It's that we want
to be on the leading edge of this trash phenomenon, the everted
sphere of futureâ€¦ (SW, p. 96).
Dan's speech reflects Barthelme's economical concerns involving America's inability to deal with its waste market which is growing more and more and he is involved in the economic issues about which the trash products and services have overspread the market in the United States. Dan represents the businessmen in America who seduce public on buying their inadequate and useless products, and he also attempts to rise their avarice with his high-sounding and easy-satisfying slogans.
Another favorite topic for Barthelme to satirize is these books, films and magazines that bring about false expectations in the audience. The novel suggests that Snow White's dissatisfaction comes from her unrealistic expectations, which in many cases are the result of watching those films and reading those books and magazines. At one point in the novel, the dwarfs tell us about Snow White that: "sulks in her room, reading Dissent and thinking". She is thinking:
My suffering is authentic enough but it has a kind of low-grade
concrete-block quality. The seven of them only add up to the
equivalent of about two real men, as we know them from the
films and from our childhood, when there were giants on the
earth. It is possible of course that there are no more real men
here, on this ball of half-truths, the earth. That would be a
disappointment. One would have to content oneself with subtle
falsity of color films of unhappy love affairs, made in France,
with a Mozart score. That would be difficult. (SW, p. 42).
Snow White's discontent of the dwarfs springs from her imagination of what "real men" are, and this imagination, as she tells us, has grown out of watching these films in her childhood. Here, Barthelme is implying that many of these films present false reality to the audience and it engenders an illusionary view of reality in the child. Snow White is not wholly aware of the fabricated quality of these films and concludes that "real men" exist no longer on the earth, while they existed at one time. Although she is somehow aware of "the subtle falsity" of these films, it is ironic that she sees them as a consolation in the absence of "real men". Snow White's false hopes which are raised out of these unrealistic films are fulfilled only by further exposure to them.
Another target of Barthelme is the field of criticism. Barthelme attempts to satirize those critics who try to find something else in the prose that the author himself did not intend it. There is a conversation between Kevin and Hubert in the novel that shows this propensity to find something that is not there. Kevin asks: "where is the figure in the carpet? Or is it justâ€¦ carpet?." Then Hubert says: "you're talking a lot of buffalo hump, you know that" (SW, p. 129). There is the same issue in the novel, where the dwarfs are reading a book. They suggest to the reader that "the sense of what is going on in a book is not to be obtained by reading between lines (for there is nothing there, in those white spaces) but by reading the lines themselves" (SW, p. 105). Elsewhere in the novel, Barthelme repeats this warning when Jane's mother sees an "ape like handâ€¦ reaching intoâ€¦ the mailbox", and tells Jane about its significance.
"that's nothing. Think nothing of it. It's nothing. It's just one
of my familiars mother. Don't think about it. It's just an ape
that's all. Just an ordinary ape. Don't give it another thought.
That's all there is to it". "I think you dismiss these things too
Easily Jane. I'm sure it means more than that. It's unusual.
It means something." "no mother. It doesn't mean more than
that. Than I have said it means." "I'm sure it means more than
that Jane." "no mother it does not mean more than that. Don't
go reading things into things mother. Leave things alone. It
means what it means. Content yourself with that mother."
"I'm certain it means more than that." "No mother." (SW, p. 107)
Jane's mother, insisting that the hand "means something", is acting like those critics who are adamant that there is something in the text more than the intention of the author.
As we have seen, Barthelme's aims and attempts, in Snow White, are predominantly satirical ones, and the formula which he uses allows him the freedom to move from one topic to another and to satirize many facets of American life. There are numerous passages which involve satire of American life, values and institutions that the reader, while reading them all, would come to know that Barthelme's condemnation of American society is harsh and acute. Although satire of American life plays a significant role in Snow White, the major target of satire is the general conditions of man, and what Barthelme comments upon this general condition, shows his awareness and harshness as a way to poke fun at their values and standards.
If we want to find a major theme in Snow White, that would be the "anticipation theme". This theme conveys the idea that man's condition is in a way that he is destined to be isolated from others and therefore to live in a dissatisfied state. If he wants to survive in this ennui, he must set goals, but this attempt is futile and ends in a more or less unhappy way. If he reaches his goals, he will find them not as attractive as they appeared, and if he fails to reach them, he will become frustrated. Barthelme suggests that it is better not to attain goals, because as soon as they are attained, they lose their glamour and get in the way of reaching future goals. Man should always be in an anticipation state, where he is not able to attain goals and at the same time, anticipates his future as rosy and hopeful. He should not be in the state of consummating goals, but rather in anticipating them.
Snow White leads a dissatisfied life and she lives in the state of ennui in which she is not pleased with her life and the dwarfs. It is apparent that Snow White has numerous problems with the dwarfs and vice versa. The dwarfs say that Snow White "loved us, in a way, but it wasn't enough" (SW, p. 11). They are selfish creatures, who expect Snow White to cook the meals and clean the house. Their love toward Snow White is sexual and Snow White, herself, does not get any pleasure from it. When Clem joins Snow White in the shower, she says: "and who is this with me, here in the shower? It is Clem. The approach is Clem's, and the technique, or lack of it, is Clem, Clem, Clemâ€¦ Clem you are downright anti-erotic, in those blue jeans and chaps! Artificial insemination would be more interestingâ€¦ everything in life is interesting except Clem's idea of sexual congress, his Western confusion between the concept "pleasure" and the concept, "increasing the size of the herd" (SW, p. 34). Clem, like other dwarfs, treats Snow White as a domesticated animal, that's why she complains that she is "tired of being just a horse-wife" (SW, p. 43).
It is clear that Snow White is discontent with her current circumstances. Her words and actions show that her dissatisfaction is the result of her relationship with the dwarfs and it springs from her way of life and her attitude toward the world. When the dwarfs try to make meringue in the kitchen, Snow White tells them: "I just don't like your worldâ€¦ A world in which such things can happen" (SW, p. 68). After that, the dwarfs attempt to pacify, but it does not work. Then, one of them says: "she still wasn't satisfied. That is the essential point here, that she wasn't satisfied" (SW, p. 69). There is a point in the novel where Snow White hangs her hair out of the window, and when no one is there to climb it, she says: "this time is the wrong time for me. I am in the wrong time" (SW, p. 131).
Snow White's dissatisfaction has made her susceptible to movements and fads that promise change. She becomes a fan of Mao, and this has disturbed the dwarfs. The dwarfs say that she "has taken to wearing heavy blue bulky shapeless quilted People's Volunteer trousers rather than the tight tempting how-the-West-was-won trousers she formerly wore, which we admired immoderately â€¦ we are getting pretty damned sick of the whole thing, of her air of being just about to do somethingâ€¦ and finding those tiny Chairman Mao poems in the baby food isn't helping one bitâ€¦" (SW, p. 16). Later in the novel, she joins women's liberation and stands against "the man who dubbed those electrical connections male and female" and "the man who called that piece of pipe a nipple" (SW, p. 130). Snow White has participated in these different movements, but neither of them has helped her to improve her situation.
Ultimately, she comes to realize that the only way to get out of this situation, is to find her prince, and it is during this state of ennui that she anticipates the arrival of her prince to alleviate her ennui and relieve her dissatisfaction. Snow White says, "well it is terrific to be anticipating a prince-to be waiting and knowing that what you are waiting for is a prince, packed with grace-but it is still waiting, and waiting as a mode of existence is, as Brack has noted, a darksome mode. I would rather be doing a hundred other things. But slash me if I will let it, this waiting; bring down my lofty feelings of anticipation from the boredom ceiling where they dance overhead like so many French letters filled with lifting gas. I wonder if he will have the Hapsburg Lip." (SW, p. 77).
In one of his capital passages, Barthelme states the concept that goals lose their glamour when they become immediately accessible:
THE VALUE THE MIND SETS ON EROTIC
NEEDS INSTANTLY SINKS AS SOON AS
SATISFACTION BECOMES READILY
AVAILABLE. SOME OBSTACLE IS NECESSARY
TO SWELL THE TIDE OF THE LIBIDO TO ITS
HEIGHT, AND AT ALL PERIODS OF HISTORY.
WHENEVER NATURAL BARRIERS HAVE NOT
SUFFICED, MEN HAVE ERECTED CONVENTIONAL
ONES. (SW, p. 76)
This passage concentrates on sexual desires, but Barthelme is trying to demonstrate that this principle can be applied to man's desires. As he says in this passage, people often construct a barrier to their goals in order to make the period of their anticipation longer and therefore, sweeter.
The anticipation theme is not only the case for Snow White, but it also involves other characters in the novel. All of the characters are dissatisfied with their current situation. Like Snow White, they fail to establish any meaningful relationship with each other.
Jane is in a state of loneliness and isolation and this condition has made her to write letters to some strangers. In one of these letters, she writes to Mr. Quistgaard, "Although you do not know me my name is Jane. I have seized your name from the telephone book in an attempt to enmesh you in my concerns. We suffer today I believe from a lack of connection with each other" (SW, p. 45). Jane's attempt to write letters appears to be breaking out of her "universe of discourse". Jane is not successful in her attempts, and she settles for a kind of second-rate relationship. When Jane asks Hogo about what is to become of them, he replies: "nothing is to become of us Jane. Our becoming is done. We are what we are. Now it is just a question of rocking along with things as they are until we are dead" (SW, p.128). Jane's relationship with Hogo is the same as the other relationships in the novel, unsatisfactory and frustrated. When Jane tells Hogo that the picture he is painting of their future is bleak, he tells her, "I didn't think up this picture that we are confronted with. The original brush work was not mine" (SW, p.126).
Hogo, like Snow White, has learnt that once the goals are attained, they lose their attraction; therefore it is necessary to set new goals. At one point in the novel, Hogo notices the "graceful cello shape" of Jane, and he asks himself, "why don't I spend more time looking at her and drinking in her second beauty". A few lines later, he thinks about the quality in man that puts him in a state of frustration: "why is it that we always require more? â€¦ Why is it that we can never be satisfied? It is almost as if we were designed that way. As if that were part of the cosmic design" (SW, p.156). this insatiable desire for "more" is apparent in several characters in the novel and it springs from their preoccupation with window. Earlier in this thesis, when we discussed the appearance of the President, both times, he was peering out a window. Elsewhere in the novel, Snow White views Hogo and Paul through a window. Hogo describes this preoccupation with window in these lines: "Ruin of the physical envelope is our great theme here, and if we keep changing girls every four or five years, it is because of this ruin, which I will never agree to, to my dying day. And that is why I keep looking out of the window, and why we all keep looking out of the window, to see what is passing, what has been cast up on the beach of our existence" (SW, p.76). Hogo implies that the desire for having "more", which makes them to look out of the window, springs from a feeling of mortality-this is a feeling of time running out.
Overall, Barthelme's vision of man in general, is a rather depressing one: his characters are caught up in the anticipation-frustration state, and they do not have the capability to change their ugly circumstances. What Barthelme suggests is that, man should recognize his despairing and frustrating situation, but he should not let himself to be driven into despair; his only rescue and salvation is to poke fun at himself-to laugh at his situation.