Sunday, March 23, 2008

This isn't something that I've tried before, but here goes, here is the first bit of literary criticism I've tried to write since I was at school. I thought it was time because I love books, I love reading and would encourage everyone to spend more time doing so. I just hope that what I write here doesn't come across as too, well, for want of a better word, arty! Enjoy.

A Kestrel for a Knave and Catch 22, endings in common

A Kestrel for a Knave (Kes) and Catch 22 (22) are two very distinct books with some common threads. While one is most definitely a tragedy and one is a black comedy and a deep satire they have a very similar style in how they end.

The majority of both texts tells the narrative tale of the two main protagonists (Billy Casper and Yosarian), leading in both cases to ultimate tragedy. In the first case to the death of Kes, Casper’s trained Hawk and in the latter to the death of the young airman in Yosarian’s crew. In both cases these are deaths that the protagonist feels responsible for even though both they and the reader can see that they are the ultimately caused by the situation in which the Casper and Yosarian find themselves. That being the desperate poverty of a mining town and the utter madness of world war respectively.

During the narrative we discover that neither of these characters is a saint or in anyway blameless. Both individuals are prepared to lie and defy authority, indeed both despise the authority around them. And these imperfections in character prevent either story descending in to sentimentality.

In both cases it would be easy to let the stories end with the deaths around which they centre. Both writers use a common theme to reinforce their message. Both Casper and Yosarian go for a long walk afterwards and we, the reader, are shown through prose the state of the world in which these two characters exist. In Yossarian’s case we see much of the pointless violence and suffering that surrounds him. This is given added impetuous by the intense comedy of what has come before in the book. In the case of Casper we see in far more detail the dereliction of the town in which he lives, something which the reader was spared prior to the death of Kes. Again this is given added impetuous by the imagined scene in which Casper goes to the cinema with his now departed father.

In some ways this style asks questions of the reader. These scenes hold a spotlight to the background of the characters, and a change in attitude by the reader, or otherwise, helps us questions ourselves as we realise whether we have fully understood the situations of the protagonists through the more general narrative.

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