Homo Faber

Homo Faber Summary and Analysis of "Cuba" to "Hanna in White"

Walter stops in Cuba to change planes on July 9th. He chooses Cuba only because he wishes to avoid New York. He stays for four days, doing nothing but looking at the city. Walter continually walks around the city. The things he notices include yellow birds, shoeshine boys everywhere, pimps trying to sell their wares, and everyone being happy. Walter has his shoes cleaned; he resolves to live differently; he buys two boxes of cigars. He is irritated that everyone keeps thinking he is an American merely because he is white. Everything is like a dream. He notices the foods and the colors. Everything seems different. He finds himself attracted to women.

In a bar, a young man insists on buying him a drink because he has just become a father. He asks Walter how many children he has, and Walter replies that he has five sons. That night there is a storm, and Walter sits and watches it. He is incredibly happy. He feels an inexpressible anger at America and at the American way of life. He sings. He thinks bitter things about those people, those Americans, yet he recognizes that he is living off their money, and it is their money that is bringing him these new pleasures. He is a little in love with the seven-year-old boy who polishes his shoes. Walter thinks about Americans, about their dependence on medicine, and about their false happiness. He wishes he could live over again. He writes a letter to Hanna.

The next day Walter goes to a beach, and it reminds him of Greece. He swims and he cries. He writes a letter to Dick. He thinks about what America has to offer: the best gadgets, a global highway, the denial of death. Later he hires a boat. Everywhere around him he suddenly sees Americans and hates them. He writes a letter to Marcel, telling him he was right. On the boat he tears up the letters to Marcel and Dick.

Back in the city, Walter is exhausted. He hails a taxi and laughs when he realizes that the driver picking him up has two prostitutes already in the back seat. He takes them to dinner. That night he begins having terrible stomach pains. He is haunted by a fear of stomach cancer--otherwise he is happy. He finally types his UNESCO report about the turbines. He sleeps, eats oysters, and smokes more cigars. He has a conversation with a prostitute. Walter realizes he cannot speak enough Spanish to have a real conversation. Juana is eighteen, has never left Cuba, and her life's goal is to get to New York. During the week she is a packer--she is only a fille de joie (a prostitute) on the weekends. He tells Juana about his daughter who died, about their travels together, about the snake, about his future. He tells her he will marry Hanna. He wants Juana to tell him whether snakes can be guided by gods or by demons. Juana has no answer for him. Walter leaves when Juana's brother, also her pimp, shows up to meet her. It is his last night.

Walter still feels happy, for no particular cause. He knows that he will never forget Havana. For hours on end he rocks and sings as the winds blow. On his last walk the next morning, a pimp strolls with him, and Walter tells him how much he loves Havana. The pimp comments that Walter seems very happy. When he departs, Walter smokes one last cigar and decides that he is not going to film anything any more, because when you look at the film the thing is gone.


In this section, the conflict between art and technology comes to a head in that Walter repudiates the way he lived in the past. The argument was weak in the first place; Walter did not make a strong argument for technology any more than Marcel, Sabeth or Hanna made a strong argument for art. Art and technology essentially become associated with two different kinds of worldviews. The old Walter looked at the world as something to be made use of--he was interested in the way that objects and places could be manipulated to improve life. Later in the novel, first with Sabeth and then moreso in Cuba, Walter begins to look on the world as something that can be enjoyed. Others now observe that he seems happy.

Walter's narrative undergoes a tremendous change in this section. Before, Walter merely referred to the surroundings. He talked about filming a sunset, or appreciating a landscape. Now, Walter describes the sights in all of their beauty and complexity. When Walter saw Hanna, she was simply a "blond ponytail," "black jeans," "plain wooden beads." Contrast this description with Walter's vision of a "Spanish Negress" in Havana: she "sticks her tongue out at me because I am admiring her, her pink tongue in her brown face, I laugh and say hello--she laughs too, showing her white teeth in the red flower of her lips (if one may put it like that) and her eyes." When Walter looked at Sabeth he did so secretly; when she caught him staring or filming, she often became angry. Now, Walter is able to admire openly, to admit desire and thus to purge himself of his shame.

Walter's ability to appreciate the beauty of Havana helps him confront the mistakes he has made and the damage he has done to people he cares about. In Havana, Walter begins to mourn Sabeth's death and to allow himself to hope for a reconciliation of some kind with Hanna. Only by confronting the reality of Sabeth's death is Walter able to envision the possibility of forgiveness. This emotional recovery is undermined, however, by his physical breakdown. Walter's fear of death begins to play a more important role in the novel; it becomes clear that Walter's refusal to take his physical pains seriously may have a catastrophic result. Once again, the reader must question how much of what Walter says and does he actually believes. If Walter had such faith in technology, why did he ignore medical symptoms and be led by the fear of seeing a doctor? One might respond by arguing that Walter sees human death as the only obstacle technology has not and will not be able to conquer. The death of Sabeth has been a key to his new appreciation for emotion and art. Therein also lies the reason for his longtime admiration for robots: robots do not need to be guided by their emotions, because no matter what robots "decide," they need never die.

While in Havana, Walter actively rejects the way that he has lived his life to this point. Interestingly, this rejection is not so much bound up with technology as with his idea of America. It begins with Walter growing angry at the fact that everyone thinks he is American simply because he is white. It continues with Walter's observation of Americans around him and his sudden distaste for the obsession with money, success and "newness" that he thinks are what define American habits. While some critics argue that this part of Homo Faber is intended to be an indictment of America and the American way of life, most critics suggest that this is an overstatement of Frisch's intentions. Readers must remember that the critique is made by Walter, an unreliable observer. Walter's condemnation of American people is most extreme in his letters to Dick and Marcel--but he tears these letters up because he feels that he has been carried away by an idea. Walter also recognizes that American money has supported him, and American money even paid for this trip. One also should note that Walter does not yet match this rejection with any kind of positive action. Walter has decided to try to live differently, but he does not really know how he wants to live or where he should begin.

Walter does not necessarily let go of his love of technology, but he has begun to recognize that happiness comes from unmediated human experience, and he is coming around to the idea that human experience that is in some way diluted or even debased by the use of technology. He decides not to film things anymore because it seems unnatural to have something exist on film that no longer exists in life, or perhaps because the film image is only a shallow representation of a real being or experience. Though Walter does not consciously go this far, onenight see Walter as choosing to interact directly with the world around him, rather than hiding behind his camera and his numbers.