Homo Faber

Homo Faber Summary and Analysis of "Hanna's Home" to "Second Stop"

At Hanna's invitation, Walter returns home with her. Hanna immediately questions him about her daughter: how did they meet? why does he call her Sabeth? In return, Walter asks her why she named her daughter Elisabeth. She replies that Elisabeth's father had chosen it. She asks him if he has ever seen Joachim again, but Walter decides he cannot tell her tonight about Joachim's death. Now that Hanna is standing in front of him, Walter almost believes that nothing ever happened between him and Sabeth. Several times that night Hanna tells Walter that he is not Sabeth's father. They talk about old times. They argue; Hanna lectures him about the uselessness of men, and he tells her she is behaving like a hen. Hanna becomes very upset when he says this. Walter is surprised that Hanna seems so superstitious about Sabeth's accident. She does not take any comfort in learning that only about six percent of adder bites are fatal. Hanna keeps trying to get him to talk about his relationship with Sabeth, and Walter finally tells her about Joachim instead. After hearing the story, Hanna suggests they both go to bed.

Before they separate, Walter admits that he has slept with Sabeth. Hanna says practically nothing and leaves him in Sabeth's room. Walter looks around Sabeth's room. He tries to wash Sabeth's blood out of his shirt, but it is ruined. Then, just as he is trying to sleep, he realizes he can hear Hanna sobbing. He goes to her door and tries to get her to let him in. She is crying so hard that finally he breaks open the door with a poker. Hanna screams at him to get away from her.

In bed, Walter remembers that twenty-four hours earlier, he and Sabeth were sitting and waiting for the sun to rise near Corinth. They had not been able to get a room at a hotel, so they had decided to find a fig tree to sleep under. This took longer than expected, until it was far too cold to think about sleeping. They walked and walked, playing a game where they took turns making similes about everything they saw and heard. Sabeth was quicker and more creative, but occasionally Walter scored a point as well. Walter thinks that he will never forget how happy Sabeth was that morning, and he will never forget how she sang.

When Walter wakes up, Hanna is not there. When she returns she tells him that she had wanted to be alone with her daughter--he must not be offended. Walter wants to see Sabeth. Walter tries to get Hanna to talk to him, but she avoids him. He takes his head in her hands and looks at her; Hanna struggles. Suddenly he kisses her. Hanna curses him.

They buy Walter a new shirt and then pick up a car from the Institute where Hanna works. They drive to pick up Walter's coat and shoes, mostly for the sake of his passport. Walter's jacket and shirt are untouched. Walter realizes everything looks exactly the same as it did the day before, only Hanna is there instead of Sabeth.

Walter thinks about the accident. He had been swimming and was fifty yards from shore when he heard Sabeth scream. Before he had gotten in the water, he had tried to wake Sabeth, and he had covered her shoulders so she would not get sunburned. Walter swam back as quickly as he could, but as he got out of the water, Sabeth backed away from him, suddenly stepping off of the embankment, falling about six feet and striking her head. Walter was mostly worried about her fall until he noticed the bite on her breast. He put on his trousers and shirt, picked her up, and began to run.

Walter tells Hanna exactly what happened. Hanna tells him that Sabeth really is his child. Walter feels as though he already knew. They begin walking back to the car. He wants to know why she hid the fact from him. She only says that she is married and that Elsbeth loves him. He tells her he will get a transfer and will move to Athens, and they all will live together. She laughs at his suggestion. He grabs her, and she tells him not to touch her. Still, Walter thinks that he must move to Athens, certain that something can be worked out. In Athens, Walter buys some flowers.

At the hospital, the deaconess enters, and they see her face. Then the doctor comes in and tells Hanna in Greek that Sabeth died an hour before. Walter sees her and thinks she is asleep. Hanna strikes at him. They later learn that their daughter's death was caused by an undiagnosed fracture to the back of her skull that could have been fixed with a relatively simple operation.

A notation in the book reads: "The narrative thus far was written by Walter in Caracas, Venezuela, between June 21st and July 8th."


Frisch uses temporal disconnection to very good effect in this section of the novel. Walter's repeated flashbacks to Sabeth's accident allow the reader to share Walter's experience as he slowly comes to terms with what happened to Sabeth. Walter's trauma feels real to us in that it constantly intrudes upon the narrative. Breaking up the new narrative events also disorients the reader in a way that reflects Walter's disorientation. Both Walter and the reader must quickly transition between past and present--caught up in a devastating moment, but also transfixed by present events.

At the beginning of this section, Walter's experience of Sabeth's accident leaves him feeling innocent of blame. He recognizes, and the doctor validates, that he did all of the right things to save her. In some ways this event actually diminishes Walter's feelings of guilt about his earlier crime. Accidentally sleeping with his daughter no longer seems real or possible while Walter is afraid that she might die of a snake bite.

In trying to reconnect with Hanna, Walter is attempting to rewrite his narrative in a manner typical of Frisch's protagonists. Walter actually believes that he can move to Athens and make a family with Hanna and Sabeth, a proper family where he would assume his place as Sabeth's father rather than her lover.

Walter is making one final attempt to convince himself that he can still control the outcome of his actions with his own choices. Notwithstanding that, Hanna represents the perspective of fate rather than coincidence. As someone who studies the ancient Greeks, and as Sabeth's mother, she represents the idea that Walter has committed a crime against nature and is now being punished. Seeing such a possibility, Hanna wants Walter to accept responsibility for his behavior. At the end of the section, when Walter and Hanna learn that Sabeth died because of Walter's inability to clearly communicate her accident to her doctors, Walter must recognize that he is ultimately blameworthy for Sabeth's death.

At this point in the novel, Walter is still relying on technology and "clear judgment" to guide his actions. Walter did not recognize that he needed to fully communicate his experience of Sabeth's accident to another human being in order to save her. Earlier in the novel, Walter argued that computers make better decisions than humans because their feelings do not influence the outcome. In this case, Walter's feelings should have saved Sabeth. His love for her, and his need to help her, should have pressured him to communicate the fact that she fell after being bitten by the snake. Instead, Walter allowed his guilt to be stifled by favorable statistics.

Walter tells Hanna everything about Sabeth's injury not because he thinks she needs to know exactly what happened (though if Walter had told her earlier, it would probably have saved Sabeth's life) but because he recognizes her right to know. Only after Walter truly acknowledges Hanna's role as Sabeth's mother does Hanna acknowledge Walter's role in Sabeth's life. One might view this information as Hanna's attempt to punish Walter, but it might be interpreted instead as a sign of Hanna's trust. For a moment both Walter and Hanna are responsible for protecting Sabeth from the consequences of what she has done. When they learn of Sabeth's death, for a moment at least, Walter and Hanna are united in the grief of parents.

Though Walter's behavior with Hanna suggests that he is stuck in the same patterns, Walter's surfacing memories of Sabeth reveal the seeds of fundamental change. The simile game that Walter plays with Sabeth on their last night together reveals a transformation in Walter's viewpoint. While stranded in the Sierra Madre desert, Walter claimed that he was unable to look at the world around him and see anything but concrete reality. That night with Sabeth, Walter not only tries but also succeeds in looking at the world as a piece of art to be interpreted. Walter is slower and less creative than Sabeth; nonetheless, he succeeds at seeing black rocks as "coals," hearing "wind in the dry grass" as "tearing silk" and seeing the sea as "a sheet of aluminum." No longer a simple argument between "art" and "technology," Homo Faber seems now to be engaging the question about the degree to which Walter should look at the world around him as full of things to be made use of versus things to appreciate and enjoy.