Homo Faber

Homo Faber Summary and Analysis of "Venezuela" to "Paris"

After leaving Herbert, Walter goes straight to Venezuela to complete his business. But he learns that the turbines he was supposed to have assembled are not ready, so he returns to New York. Ivy meets Walter at the airport and acts as though their relationship is intact. Throughout the evening, Ivy tries to make up with him, and Walter tries to get Ivy to leave. Each time they fight, Ivy successfully seduces him, making him hate her even more. Finally, Walter realizes he cannot stay in New York another week as planned. He immediately makes arrangements to leave for Paris the next day by boat. He invites friends over to prevent being alone with Ivy any longer, and he passes the night in a drunken, confused haze. The next day Ivy takes him to the boat.

As Walter waits in line to get his meal assignment, he sees Sabeth for the first time. He notices her reddish-blond ponytail swinging just in front of his face. He passes the time imagining what she looks like. Then he goes down to his cabin and meets his bunkmate, Lajser Lewin, an agriculturist from Israel. Walter is curious about Sabeth, and as he explores the boat, he keeps passing by the ping-pong table where she is playing with a young man. She does not notice him, even when she almost runs into him while chasing a ball.

The narrative switches to a future time. Walter asks himself why he needs to prove he did not know Sabeth was his daughter at the time. It was obviously pure chance that brought them together, but that does not change the fact that he has destroyed her life.

Back on the boat, Sabeth and Walter slowly establish a relationship of some kind. They are not friends, but they are more than acquaintances. Walter talks to her about technology, cybernetics, and Maxwell's demon. He is impressed by how quickly she understands his work. Walter constantly denies that he is attracted to her, insisting that he is merely interested in her as a person. Walter also acknowledges that he is bored. He is not used to having so little to do. Walter speaks to many people on the ship, and he is careful never to talk to Sabeth unless he actually has something to say to her. He never wants to bore her. Walter is pleased when, one morning, Sabeth sits at his table at breakfast. She joins a conversation several other people are having about the Louvre, and Walter confesses he has never been there, though he has been to Paris many times. Sabeth is horrified but amused. Walter becomes more and more irritated at the conversation, and Sabeth tries to turn the conversation to "his robots."

Walter thinks about why Sabeth reminds him of Hanna. He decides that any young girl would probably remind him of Hanna--they do not look alike, and he has no reason to believe they are connected, though they do speak the same form of High German. Walter thinks a lot about Hanna. He imagines what she looks like now, comparing her to the other older women on board. He decides she is more beautiful and more lovable then any of them. But then he reminds himself it has been twenty years, and he really has no idea what she looks like. Then he sees Sabeth, and once again her gestures remind him of Hanna, but he refuses to lend the idea any credence.

Sabeth becomes very seasick, and Walter and her ping-pong partner jostle over who will take care of her. They spend an awkward half hour in her room, each trying to be more helpful, and then they leave together. Walter does not want to leave the young man, because he does not want him to go back to Sabeth's room. After they separate, he immediately brings Sabeth some sea-sickness pills. She takes them but will not let him come in again. He wonders if she has slept with the young man. He realizes how little he knows about her--she spent a year at Yale on scholarship, and now she is going home to her mother in Athens. She teases Walter that she will become an air hostess so that she can travel, and she wants to hitchhike from Paris to Rome.

Walter spends a lot of time playing chess with Mr. Lewin, while Sabeth passes the time reading. At one point he tells Sabeth generally what happened to Joachim, but he never mentions Joachim's name. He has drunk too much, and he becomes upset. Sabeth wants to help him to his room. Later he thinks about how just mentioning Joachim's name would have prevented the rest of the events from occurring.

The day before the ship lands at Le Havre, Walter and Sabeth get into an argument when he tries to film her with his camera. She tells him she does not like that he is always watching her, and suddenly the strains in their relationship become unavoidable. Walter tries to diffuse the tension by asking Sabeth to come see the ship's engines with him, as she has requested earlier. But during their tour, Walter lifts her off a ladder by the waist, and once again they are reminded of how much older he is.

The next night there is a dance. It is also Walter's fiftieth birthday, but he has not told anyone. He and Mr. Lewin get drunk, while Sabeth dances with a number of men. Walter's stomach has been hurting him again, and he decides he must see a doctor in Paris. Mr. Lewin dances with Sabeth, and Walter goes up on deck. Sabeth comes up, worried that Walter is lonely. He gives her his jacket, and they discuss the constellations. Walter almost tells her it is his birthday, but instead he asks her to promise not to become an air hostess. He also asks her to allow him to pay her fare to Rome. Sabeth teases him, and he gives her a lecture about his feelings about women. He insists that he likes living alone, and that after three weeks he would feel about any woman as he feels about Ivy.

As Sabeth dances again, Walter grows melancholy. Sabeth sits down at the table, and Walter asks her if she will marry him. Sabeth cannot tell if he is joking. Mr. Lewin comes by the table, and when he leaves, Sabeth asks if he was joking. He kisses her forehead and her eyelids and then realizes she is crying. He cannot kiss her again, and the conversation ends. The ship docks, and everyone departs. Walter sees Sabeth only across a crowd--once as she is carrying her luggage towards customs, and once as she departs.


Walter's return to New York and to Ivy introduces a new theme: an individual's desire to overcome isolation. Walter thought that he had made it clear to Ivy that their relationship is over, but he seems unwilling to cut himself off from her completely. Just as when Walter chose to write her a letter reminding her of the end of their relationship, while everyone around him was writing to affirm connections to friends and family, now Walter allows Ivy to meet him at the airport and see him home, only to remind himself why he does not wish to see her anymore. The reader again must question Walter's interpretation of events, because despite his account, it becomes clear that Ivy has planned a romantic welcome for him. Throughout the evening, as Walter and Ivy enact a series of separations and reunions, it becomes clear that as much as Walter dislikes Ivy, he still craves the companionship that she offers him. To cut himself off from her, since he cannot send her away, Walter invites more people to the apartment.

In an effort to escape Ivy, Walter books himself a passage on a ship to Paris, rather than waiting to fly a week later. Ironically, in having Walter take a ship to Paris, Frisch is creating a situation where Walter cannot rely on his efforts to distance himself from human interaction. To pass the time, Walter must rely on his relationships with those around him. Perhaps because of this isolation, perhaps solely because of his relationship with Sabeth, Walter begins to question his own affinity for isolation. This internal conflict reaches its climax when Walter asks Sabeth to marry him. Whether or not he is serious, this request suggests that Walter has begun to doubt the success of his previous lifestyle to the extent that he is willing to try living another way.

One of the most important aspects of this section is the reintroduction of and emphasis on a previously discussed theme, art vs. technology. First introduced at the Mayan ruins, this theme is now established as one of the major themes of the novel. In this section Walter goes into great detail about his work. In his first real conversation with Sabeth, he tells her about "navigation, radar, the curvature of the earth, electricity, entropy." Later, Walter realizes that he is "talking like a teacher." As Walter teaches Sabeth about cybernetics, he unwittingly reveals elements of his own emotional life, making his vulnerabilities clear to Sabeth and to the reader. He rhapsodizes about the beauty of the calculating machine, which

feels no fear and no hope, which only disturb, it has no wishes with regard to the result, it operates according to the pure logic of probability. For this reason, I assert that the robot perceives more accurately than man, it knows more about the future.

With this speech, Frisch makes it clear that while Walter embraces the idea of technological omnipotence, he does not represent it. Walter's choices are constantly affected by fear and hope; while he embraces probability and logic, he makes absurd choices based entirely upon hunches.

In earlier discussions about the Mayan ruins, Frisch seemed to portray ancient cultures as representative of anti-technology, the idea of a civilization that viewed progress as something distinct from technological development. Now, it becomes clear that the deeper opposition to technology is art. Walter is confronting not just his reliance on technology, but also his inability to appreciate art. When Walter listens while Sabeth, Mr. Lewin, and a few others discuss the Louvre, he is not only jealous of Sabeth's attention, but he is also irritated by the reminder of a divide between himself and persons who do appreciate art. Walter admits that he has never been to the Louvre, in order to demonstrate the unimportance he finds in their area of interest; his refusal to contribute should be interpreted as a rational choice which has produced, in the minds of those who appreciate art, a significant human lack.

Walter's interjections from the future continue to evince his struggle with the cause of the upcoming tragedy. Walter insists, "We might just as well have passed one another by. What was providence to do with it? Everything might have turned out quite differently." At the same time Walter continues to act out of impulse, rather than reason. When he first sees Sabeth, she reminds him of Hanna, but he rationalizes the similarity by deciding that any woman of that age would remind him of Hanna. Despite Walter's belief in the power of coincidence, and despite his insistence that unlikely events can happen, he chooses to believe that Sabeth and Hanna share no connection. Walter refuses to believe in fate, but he also refuses to accept the fact that his own choices and misjudgments played a significant role in what happened.