Homo Faber

Homo Faber Summary and Analysis of "Hanna in White" to "The End"

Back in the hospital, Hanna has come to see Walter, and this time she is wearing white. She says that it is too hot outside for black. Walter thinks that she is being thoughtful, trying not to remind him of the possibility of death.

In a postscript, Walter writes that Hanna has told him that as a child her younger brother beat her at wrestling, and she swore she would never love a man, being furious that God had made them stronger than women. Hanna told him how important it had been to her to be better than all the boys. She also told him about an old man with whom she spent a lot of time as a child and young woman. He was much older than she, fifty or sixty, and he was blind. She used to guide him. Walter asked her about the birth of their child. She told him it was an easy birth and that Joachim acted like a real father. Walter also learned that his mother knew about Sabeth, and that Hanna and his mother had corresponded for years. Hanna goes back to talking about Armin. She explains that it was Armin who made her interested in ancient Greece. They had a plan to run away together to Greece as soon as Hanna was of age. Hanna doesn't know how Armin really felt, but she tells Walter she was completely serious. When Hanna was with Walter, she still spent time with Armin, and Walter actually remembers seeing him with Hanna, though at the time he had no idea who Armin was. Armin died on a ship that probably was sunk by a German submarine.

The narrative suddenly moves back to Walter's journey just before entering the hospital. After leaving Cuba, he flies to Düsseldorf, Germany. He feels a duty to visit Herbert's company and tell them what happened to Joachim and Herbert. He explains that he has some films with evidence of Joachim's death. When he arrives, he realizes that they have written off the plantation, and they are only humoring him. He feels he must go through with it. It is the first time that Walter has seen the films. Many of them are not labeled. He slowly becomes embarrassed at the number of films they must get through before he finds the right one--there are so many pictures of sunsets. He also cannot get the focus correct. It is almost impossible to see Joachim clearly. He cannot find the reel that shows Herbert at the plantation on his most recent visit. Instead, they keep putting on reels of Greece, until finally, there is Sabeth. Walter does not stop the film, though the operator comments several times that this cannot be Guatemala. For a few minutes it is as if Walter is reliving his entire journey with Sabeth, only this time knowing how short it will be.

When Walter is sitting in the dining car on his way to Zurich, he cannot remember leaving the building. He wonders what they thought of him. He just got up and walked out, leaving the films behind. He wishes he had never existed. He looks at the dining forks and wonders, why not let his head fall upon them in order to be rid of his eyes?

Back in the hospital, Walter is writing about how just after Sabeth's death, he had no idea where Hanna was or what she did. Now, Walter does not understand how Hanna can bear to see him. Her hair has grown whiter. Hanna's only reaction that Walter understood was when she beat him with her fists at Sabeth's deathbed.

Again, the narrative transitions to Walter's journey. Walter has decided to stop in Zurich on his way back to Paris. Walter hasn't been to his native city for decades. He has nothing to do there, and Williams is expecting him in Paris. Almost immediately he runs into his old professor, the same man who saw him with Sabeth in Paris. He now looks even worse, even closer to death. This time, Walter has coffee with him, but Walter cannot think of anything to say. One of the waiters recognizes Walter and tells him he has not changed. Professor O. comments that it is a pity Walter never finished his dissertation on Maxwell's demon. He asks Walter how his daughter is. Walter asks how he knew she was his daughter, and Professor O. replies that he just assumed she was. That same day Walter leaves Zurich. It is a very smooth flight. Walter looks out the window, watching everything go by. He begins to play the simile game with himself, thinking of what Sabeth would have compared things to, until he runs out of similes. In Milan, he cables to Hanna. In Rome he cables Williams, giving him his notice. He flies to Corinth. The flight is intensely interesting; he feels as if he is flying for the first time. Hanna meets him at the airport. She is wearing black. Walter has no luggage besides his briefcase, his typewriter, a coat, and a hat.

For a moment the narrative transitions back to the hospital. It is the day before Walter's operation. Now, the narrative and Walter's diary have finally met in time. Walter thinks that he has only seen Sabeth's grave once. It is very hot; flowers wither in half a day.

The rest of the narrative consists of diary entries. On the evening before his operation, Walter writes that they have taken away his typewriter. Hanna has been to see him. At midnight, he still cannot sleep. He is terribly afraid that he has stomach cancer, but that they will not tell him for fear he will commit suicide. He refuses to tell them that the pains are worse than ever. He realizes that he wants to live, no matter how little time he has left. He believes that he is not alone, since Hanna is his friend. At 3 a.m. he writes a letter to Hanna. He makes arrangements in case of his death: he wants all of his reports, letters, and notebooks destroyed. He realizes that all he wants is to be alive.

Walter writes that earlier that night Hanna had finally told him what she did after Sabeth's death. She immediately wanted to leave Greece. She felt she could not stay there under the circumstances. She sold all of her things, rented out her flat, quit her job, and got on a boat. At the last minute she changed her mind and got off the boat. Unfortunately, the Institute had already given her job to her former assistant. For the present she was serving as a tour guide. It was pure chance that she had gotten Walter's cable.

At 6 a.m. Walter writes another letter to Hanna. At 6:45 he thinks about why Joachim hanged himself. Hanna keeps asking him what he thinks. That night Hanna had also told him that as soon as he left for Baghdad, she decided to have their child. She let Joachim think that he had talked her into it, but the truth was that she was happy to have a fatherless child who would belong to her alone. Differences arose between them when Joachim could no longer stand to have absolutely no say in how Sabeth was being raised. Joachim hoped more and more for a child that would also belong to him. Then Joachim found out Hanna had had herself sterilized. He volunteered for the German army, though he had already been exempted from service. From that point on, Hanna sacrificed everything for her child. Now, she asks herself why she felt the need to shut everyone else out. Walter tried to apologize to Hanna for his behavior when Sabeth was in the hospital, but she kept trying to apologize to him instead, asking if he could forgive her. Walter thinks that Hanna will never leave Athens--will never leave the grave of her child. He understands why she gave up her apartment. Hanna could barely let Sabeth go away for half a year, but even Hanna could not have foreseen that in leaving her mother, Sabeth would meet her father, who would "destroy her life."

At 8:45 Walter writes his last entry, simply that "They're coming."


The last section of the novel is the most confused in terms of the order of events versus the order of narration. While Walter is clearly trying to come to terms with the possibility of his own death, the reader is also offered a mediated view of Hanna as she begins to forgive Walter and herself. A good example of this kind of double-narration is when Hanna comes to see Walter for the first time wearing white instead of black. Walter believes that Hanna is being kind to him in that she does not want to remind him of death. In addition, the putting off of black symbolically means that the period of formal mourning is at an end. The reader can interpret both Walter's belief and Hanna's personal motives from the same ambiguous text.

When Hanna tells Walter about Armin, Walter does not consciously recognize that Hanna is attempting to communicate her forgiveness. Walter simply marvels at how little he knew about Hanna's life, yet Hanna is clearly explaining to Walter that she does not blame him for his relationship with Sabeth. Hanna participated in and even benefited from a similar relationship when she was a girl. These relationships are both natural and unnatural.

The narrative's transition to the past suggests that while Hanna might be at peace, Walter clearly is not. Walter felt that he must inform someone official about Joachim's death, because he wants someone official to absolve him of guilt. The film reels are evidence of Walter's innocence. But seeing the reels forces him to think about a much worse crime that he cannot be absolved of; he subconsciously wants to see Sabeth and to convict himself of a far more terrible crime. Walter's self-condemnation is symbolized by his use of Oedipal imagery to convey the depth of his despair. On the train, Walter imagines putting out his own eyes, which is Oedipus's exact reaction to his discovery that he had slept with his mother and killed his father. At this point Walter still believes that he is guilty of Sabeth's death and that he deserves to be despised and punished for it. He does not understand why Hanna is being so kind to him now, because he believes that attacking him, as she did just after they discovered Sabeth's death, is the only logical response to his crime.

The next few episodes reveal Walter's passage from active guilt to acceptance. The most influential moment comes when Walter once again runs into Professor O., this time in Zurich. Professor O. casually mentions Sabeth, who he assumed is Walter's daughter. Having someone else treat him as a father helps Walter begin to see himself as Sabeth's father.

As Walter's narrative catches up with itself, Hanna continues to open up to Walter. Her willingness to share her grief with him and to acknowledge his own pain helps Walter move past his guilt and begin the process of mourning.

At the end of the novel Walter demonstrates real, substantial change. Now when they take away Walter's typewriter he continues to write. He writes personal letters, not just reports, and he faces death head-on by preparing for it. Most importantly, Walter demonstrates his newfound ability to find happiness in even the smallest of blessings. He knows that he may well die, despite favorable statistics. He recognizes that he cannot wipe away the mistakes of his past; he is not going to marry Hanna and pretend that he has never hurt her. He believes that Hanna is his friend and that he is not going to die alone, and these two small things help him cling to his life despite all of his mistakes.

The book ends without revealing to the reader whether Walter Faber lives or dies. This choice suggests that ultimately Homo Faber is not a morality tale with a simple focus on guilt or innocence. Instead, Homo Faber presents an argument for valuing life, accepting one's mistakes, and learning from the past.