“Undine Goes” looks at the human world from the perspective of a mythical sea creature called Undine. Undine loved and lost a human man and she has something to say about it.
Bachmann illustrates the parallel themes of ill-fated affairs and of men keeping women out of their world of opportunity in the short story. She uses an every-man “Hans”, Undine’s continuous belief that the next “Hans” will be different from the last, and the separate worlds of men and women in the land and sea to illustrate these themes. The figure at the end of the piece potentially offers a tentative hope for Undine to find a man who will let her permanently enter his world, but perhaps only if she conforms to be like him.
“Hans,” or the ubiquitous every man, illustrates that all men are the same and all treat women in the same manner. Undine continues to believe that the next Hans she meets will be different from the last she left—a hope that never pans out. This statement illustrates her constant renewal in faith in men that is dashed because all men turn out to hurt her and each man is the same.
Still, even though she knows each man is like the last, she is unable to resist to and enter into the affair or into man’s world. After these endeavors fail, Undine tells herself that she’ll never fall for men’s tricks again. Still, she never listens to her own advice. She thinks that this one who she loves will be different or this one will let her into the man’s world, but they will not. This also seems to be the reason she doesn’t want to get close to any men-- she can idolize them from a distance, but once she sees them up close, she realizes they are no different from the last.
After one of the two parallel situations, Undine is always banished to water while men stay in the land they’ve created. Men live on land. Whenever Undine meets a new man, she must change herself to please him. Whenever Undine meets a man, she must literally go out of her own element and try and conform to something unlike herself in order to be a part of his world.
However, whenever she leaves a man, she can become herself again. This implies that that the water may not be the place that she wants to be, but is the only place where she can belong. The land seems to represent the intellectual, cultural, and societal realm where men have long dominated, while the sea represents the domestic sphere, or outside space in general, to which mistresses and women are relegated.
The figure at the end of the piece could represent a man who hates the distinction between the worlds of men and women. It seems as though if he answers her call of “Come,” he has the potential to be someone who will give Undine opportunity in his world. This hopeful stance of women eventually being able to break through the boundaries between men and women is illustrated throughout the piece. When they don’t need women to be frivolous ego-boosters, then men and women can become equals. However, the figure may not be positive. Because he “hates water,” he also hates the figurative realm that all of womanhood lives. Throughout the piece and especially with the statement above, Bachmann seems to call for the coming together of worlds rather than for women to conform to the man’s world.