In ‘The Woman in the Dunes’, the narrators is caught in a nightmarish trap whereby he in perpetually clearing away the encroachments of the ever-moving sand before it consumes the village which has enslaved him. Abe is able to capture brilliantly the sense of claustrophobia engendered by being in the sand pit, the pervasiveness of the sand as it lodges itself in the throat of the narrator, parching him, the clammy and sticky nature of the sand as it envelops his body, almost eviscerating him, divesting him of his ability to feel, to hope, to live.
The only thing which keeps him going is his intransigence in not succumbing to his forced labour; his mind is perpetually hell-bent on escape, as he thinks of increasingly desperate and dangerous ways to free himself. This sense of desperation perhaps triggers the more unpleasant aspect of his personality. The supercilious air which he initially exudes is transformed into a sense of domination against the woman who lured him into the trap, as she uses her, both figuratively and later on in the story, literally when he rapes her to amuse the other villagers, to regain the sense of power which he lost. Here Abe does a clever thing, as the reader begins to lose sympathy with the narrator as he becomes increasingly unpleasant until, like the slow trickle of sand through a looking glass, his sense of defiance slowly disappears, to be replaced with a sense of acceptance, of contentment with his lot; better to be a knowing slave in the sand-pit than and oblivious one in the outside world.
“One could not do without repetition in life, like the beating of the heart, but it was also true that the beating of the heart was not all there was to life”