Journal directory listing - Volume 21-30 (1976-1985) - Volume 27 (1982)

The Tragic Vision of Nathanael West Author: Yu Yuh-Chao(Graduate Institute of English College of Liberal Arts)


Nathanael West (1903-1940), who was not fully "discovered" as an important writer until the 1950's, has presented a persistent and profound tragic vision in his four novels. The main purpose of this study is to investigate the special nature of his tragic vision and the special ways in which it has been manifested. Through this study, it is hoped, some light will be shed on the achievements of this leading American novelist of the 1930's.
The thesis consists of six chapters. The introductory chapter not only ex-plains the theoretical framework of the present study but also examines the uniqueness of West by tracing the steady growth of his posthumous reputation and discussing the primary shaping forces of his profound sense of tragedy. Chapter II deals with The Dream Life of Balso Snell in which the protagonist's journey in the Trojan Horse through dreams-within-dreams embodies West's attempt at artistic nihilism. In the third chapter, the focus is on Miss Lonelyhearts'-futile quest of the so-called "Christ dream" for the sake of suffering humanity. Then, Chapter IV concentrates on the factors of the failure of the so-called "American dream" as dramatized in A Cool Million. As to Chapter V, it is mainly concerned about the satire upon the "dream dump" of Hollywood as presented in The Day of the Locust. Finally, in the concluding chapter, an overall appraisal of West's artistic treatment of his tragic vision is made by way of discussing the position he has occupied in the tradition of American black humor.
West's work as a whole offers a penetrating critique of the cultural crisis facing modern people. His tragic vision has affected considerably the themes, techniques, and style of his works, and it is effectively presented through the use of his mode of black humor and some surrealist and symbolistic techniques. That vision has resulted in some special patterns of imagery and also in the special structure of his works generally based on the tension between dream and reality. Unable to withstand the absurd reality, many of his characters are often driven into nightmares by their dreams. This irony of dreams is well sustained by the imagery of the waste land. In view of the serious critical attention he has received and of the remarkable influences he has exerted on some prominent modern writers, there is no doubt that he deserves his ever growing reputation.

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