The main character of the story, Koekebakker, relates natural landscapes to the freedom and hubris of youth and urban landscapes to the restriction of adulthood. He describes watching the sunrise over the Zuiderzee with his friends, laying on the dikes among the buttercups, and talking on the dunes of Zanvoort. These landscapes are connected with the hubris of Koekebakker’s youth, when he and his friends thought that they “were God’s chosen ones.” He describes the time with his friends and the landscapes nostalgically, reminiscing on when they were “a magnificent bunch of young men.”
These open landscapes and unregulated time are contrasted with the cramped urban landscapes and structured practices of adulthood. After their excursions into nature in their youth, Koekebakker describes his friend Bekker sitting “at his desk daydreaming about the sun all day,” longing “for six o’clock more desperately than ever.” But Bekker eventually adapted to the routines of adulthood, getting a real career and falling into the same practices as the important gentlemen that they chastised in their youth. Koekebakker bemoans the fact that Bekker “has no vision of the future and no longings, not even for six o’clock.” Bekker has clearly moved on, however, saying he “feels a little pleased with himself for having ‘lived the life of the mind’ once.”
Bekker’s ability to move on from their youth is in contrast with Bavink. Bavink is institutionalized, where he spends his time looking up at the sky, gazing at the horizon, or “staring into the sun until his eyes hurt.” Despite his insanity, Bavink’s paintings – a hobby from their youth – are extremely popular and “fetch a high price nowadays.” He held on to some threads from their childhood, but did so at the apparent expense of his mental stability.
Ultimately, the natural landscapes represent the freedom and beauty of youth, while the urban landscapes represent the structure and banal routine of adulthood. If you try to hold on to youth when your time has passed, you will drive yourself to insanity.