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The vision of alienation : an analytical approach to the works of Patrick White Schermbrucker, William Gerald

Abstract

This study of Patrick White's work is chiefly concerned with the first four novels, but refers also to some poetry, the short stories, the plays and the three later novels. It traces the development of themes and techniques in these four novels in terms of artistic vision and the rendering of that vision. The early, experimental works, up to The Living and the Dead are treated at considerable length, chiefly to show how the later developments are basically improvements and variations on the themes and techniques which have already been used. A second reason for the length of this part of the treatment is that, in the existing criticism of White, these early works are almost entirely ignored. There is need for reappraisal (over and above the original review articles which are about all that exist), and this study makes a modest attempt at this. The middle period, to which belong The Aunt’s Story and The Tree of Man (as well as one play and some stories), is presented as the high point of maturity, both of technique and of the vision which the technique embodies. The works have a high degree of structural integration and the vision is presented with great clarity and imaginative appeal. The later novels, Voss, Riders in the Chariot and The Solid Mandala, continue the use of developed techniques from the middle period. There is an imaginative boldness of design in these later novels, but the themes reveal a vision which appears to be declining into personal reverie and dream. In this period White seems to lose the ability to maintain the stance of integrity-in-isolation which he has asserted in the two preceding novels, and appears instead to seek some kind of mystic communion for his heroes. These interpretations of the later novels are suggested, but not argued in his study; they have been argued in several published articles. In part, it is this discrepancy between the mystical or basically symbolic vision of the later novels and the un-symbolic, essentially naturalistic vision of the earlier period, which has defined the limitations of the thesis presented. At the present stage of critical interpretation, the vision of the later period appears less significant than the earlier vision. In order that we may resolve the apparent differences between the two visions, it is necessary first to define the earlier vision. This study analyses the earlier works, for that purpose. In the final chapter, a suggestion is offered as to how the later novels might be approached in a way that would show the later vision to be a consistent development of the earlier vision, through a boldly symbolic technique. Above all, this study concentrates on White's vision of the alienated state of man, as the central pre-occupation of his earlier works. It analyses the techniques by which this vision is rendered, examining the tests of the four novels more closely than has been done in any criticism published to date.

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