I’ve thought a lot about the idea of reincarnation in the context of this book, given its spiritual undertones and the connectedness between entities such as the narrator and the bear that allows them to communicate. Up to this point, the narrator has been “reborn” in some sense on two occasions: once prior to the bear’s orders that he go into the deep house to find his wife and the foundling, and now again by the squid (“once a man, once many men, perhaps” according to the bear) in the lake (Bell 203). According to Wikipedia, in the Hindu tradition, there are several reasons why a person might be reincarnated (paraphrased):
- To experience the fruit of one’s karmas;
- To satisfy one’s desires (in the event that he or she has died prior to attaining them);
- To continue a spiritual journey to liberation from worldly forces;
- To fulfill a debt (with the being to which one was indebted in a previous life existing in the form of a relative, friend or enemy);
- To undergo suffering as a result of sin;
- To take the final step in learning to purge oneself of base instincts so that he or she might be freed of the cycle of reincarnation once and for all.
Since this book already contains fantastic elements without relating to religion, personally I doubt that the transformations of the bear, the squid, and the narrator have much to do with spiritual liberation, but I can certainly see the possibility of their sufferings as a result of bad karma or sin. Even in the life he recounts now, the narrator is coming to realize that he has not always treated his wife with kindness, let alone been a father to the foundling who could have benefited from his involvement in childhood, and such would also provide a possible explanation as to why he has been unable to have biological children (with his wife’s own prevention of the pregnancies being part of the punishment).