Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Serious to the Absurd

     “Kasaipwalova” deals with a remarkably serious topic, that is, racial discrimination. As others have noted, it is similar to Tale of the Tikongs in terms of documenting a native way of life being encroached on by outsiders. But the tale is told relatively lightly. It does not have the same subtle sharpness to it as Tale of the Tikongs and is told in a more triumphant manner as our narrator dismisses the officers as “puppies” and ultimately succeeds in standing up to them. The narrator’s general blasé attitude allows for the story to be more palatable while still grappling with the unpleasantness of the actual events, and the humor makes the narrator and the other students more sympathetic to us. The police are not just the villains because of their abuse of the law, but from a story perspective, because of their humorlessness too.

     Voltaire’s Candide also discusses what should be serious topics; Candide faces war, disaster, and believes that many people he cares about are lost or dead. Different characters get abducted or enslaved or sentenced to death. And yet the humor is not in spite of but because of these things. Voltaire uses the absurdity of the magnitude of their misfortune to inspire laughter. Of course these are all horrible things, but the fact they keep piling up causes readers’ sympathy to reach a breaking point and turn into disbelief, which then allows for amusement. It is no different than when someone going through a rough time might burst out laughing at the next misfortune. At a certain point, humor provides a release that helps to puncture the painful pressures of bad luck and bad experiences, and Voltaire plays with this by amping up the misfortune and presenting us with more and more ridiculous situations, like El Dorado. 

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