UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Aspects of form as world : an interpretation of the novels of Mordecai Richler Basman, Itzik Zacharias


Starting from the premise that form and content are one, and seeing interpretation as the elucidation of their unity, this thesis attempts to interpret the novels of Mordecai Richler. Taking form to be that which forms the world of the novel, and to be that world as an organized whole—form as process and as product, this study examines the nature of the worlds of Richler's novels, how their nature reflects particularly in character, setting and plot, and, finally, how the literary forms Richler uses bear upon the worlds he depicts. The Introduction describes theoretically the basis and nature of this interpretive approach, and defines its scope and discipline. Chapter One deals with Richler's first three novels, The Acrobats, set in a war-weary Spain, both realistically treats Andre Bennett's search for definition and dramatizes symbolically how evil, as a constant force in man's life because it is a permanent part of his nature, takes its toll in Andre's death. Son of _a Smaller Hero, Richler's most formally realistic novel, describes Noah Adler's search for definition within a particular and tightly-knit social context, and explores how the fundamental tension between man's need for passion and his passionate need for security, which results in him suppressing his passions in order to gain security, complicates this search. A Choice of Enemiest the most bitterly pessimistic of the first three novels, projects a world which overwhelms any attempt to find meaning and value in it, and in which, as the title suggests, a choice of enemies is the only kind of choice the characters can make. Chapter Two discusses The Apprenticeship of Duddv Kravitz. focussing on how this novel marks a departure from the novels which precede it, how Richler's controlled use of the picaresque and comic forms affects the world he projects, and how this world in its ambiguity and corruptness reflects itself in Duddy, who is undoubtedly Richler's most successful character. It is the argument of Chapter Two that Duddv Kravitz is not a comic novel, and that the point at which Duddy's world absorbs him marks where the novel's overriding pessimism absorbs the comic. Chapter Three concerns itself with The Incomparable Atuk and Cocksure, and seeks to demonstrate how the pessimism of the previous novels intensifies and darkens as Richler moves from a predominant mode of verisimilitude to the caricature, grotesquerie, and fantasy of satire and black humour. The point at which the satire turns into black humour is the point at which the malevolence Richler depicts establishes its predominance, its power and significance beyond satire's ability to diminish it by ridicule. For it subsumes the moral norm satire needs to make its ridicule effective. Because Richler incorporates so much from his previous novels into St. Urbain's Horseman, Chapter Four treats it both as a work unto itself and as a kind of summing up. Seen from the perspective of the latter, it serves well as the basis for a conclusion about Richler's work thus far. . Controlling this conclusion is the contention that the return to a mode of verisimilitude in St. Urbain's Horseman is integral to its accommodation of the growing pessimism of the previous novels. Rather than being clearly affirmative, this accommodation-—Jake's ability to find some meaning and value in the world, is qualified by the unabated continuance of the sources of Richler's pessimism. The tension here, paradoxically, is the synthesis of Richler's pessimism and a new partial resolve.

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