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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Political themes in Joseph Conrad’s Under Western Eyes and Thomas Mann’s Doktor Faustus Cobley, Evelyn Margot


This thesis focuses on the political themes of Thomas Mann's Doktor Faustus and Joseph Conrad's Under Western Eyes; it explores in particular the similarities in their treatment of political material. Because of their distinct aims and concerns, art and politics approach social reality in different ways. Topical political discourse especially tends to simplify and systematize life, whereas literature retains and emphasizes its complexities and ambiguities. An examination of Thomas Mann's and Joseph Conrad's non-fictional writings and biographical background indicates that the two authors held political views which were often biased and simplistic. Their fiction, however, mirrors political reality in all its complexity. Doktor Faustus and Under Western Eyes present and dramatize political problems without offering solutions or one-sided views. Through Adrian Leverkühn and Razumov, the essentially demonic nature of the German and Russian national character is investigated. Leverkühn is the symbol and culmination of Germany's cultural history, and his pact with the devil is a metaphor for Germany's movement towards Nazism. Razumov is a typical Russian whose fate embodies the dilemma of a country torn between cynical autocracy and lawless revolution. However, Leverkühn’s and Razumov's involvement with the anti-rational and demonic is not unequivocally condemned. The novels also bring out forcibly the sterility and complacency of Western civilization. Western values are represented by the narrators, Zeitblom and the language teacher, whose criticism of Leverkühn and Razumov is always tinged with their own humanistic tradition. While Mann and Conrad offer an indictment of political systems which threaten the freedom of the individual, they also express a deep-seated scepticism of all political solutions.

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