Two dominant themes are developed: the first is the corruption and evil generated by the repressive regime and the resulting injustices it perpetuates. There is no hope for a society lost in a morass of degeneration, depravity and sexual degradation. Well-intentioned characters are overcome by pervasive destructive forces to become pathetic loyal subjects.
The second theme is the loss of individual will or the inability to exercise one's will to rise above mediocrity.
Through the central character's introspective view of his life, Vargas Llosa examines the doubts, anxieties and indecision of a human being who prefers anonymity, neutrality and failure to self-assertion and social responsibility.