Professor Michelle Smith
First-Year Seminar: The American Middle Class
Due: May 7th, 2018
A Literary Critique of the Novel “Pym”: Significance of Humor
Authors of literary works use humor for more reasons than merely entertaining their readers or audiences. They have found it as a way of conveying messages that may be impossible to state directly to their audiences. The African American community has found humor to be instrumental in the face of their struggles with racism (Zekavat 52). One literary work that has used humor is the recently published novel, Pym. Matt Johnson, the author of Pym, also takes a satirical approach to addressing some key themes including race and racism in his fictional novel. In fact, a recent interview with the author described the use of humor as “a tool for social justice” (Johnson). Pym is a reinterpretation of Poe’s novel “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym” after literary critics had termed it as “silly and full of inconsistencies” (Zekavat 55). Contrary to the early literary critics, Matt does a fantastic job in combining a robust comic voice with strange fantastical adventure. This literary critique details the significance of humor in one of the most popular African American Literature in the contemporary world, Pym.
Body- First Point
First, Matt Johnson uses humor to confront the paradox of his historical moments. Notably, the author uses humor to explore how being black in the 19th century within the US mattered and how they are present display echoes their experiences. The author exposes the extent upon which the United State’s past racist experiences resonates the lives of his crazy cast list in Pym. As refracted in Pym’s characters implausible adventures, the history surrounding race and racism has dramatically influenced the social dynamics of the present society in the United States. A satirical approach is used in expressing blackness and whiteness as inseparable which is impossible to understand one of them without the other entirely. From the novel, Johnson mirrors his 21st-century character Chris Jaynes with his narrative foil Arthur Pym. He does this in two significant ways. First, Johnson imports Poe’s concept of directing the reader to follow the protagonist throughout his time in a foreign environment, followed by documenting his encounter with people of other races and ends with the death of people around him. Secondly, Johnson structures his novel Pym in a similar racial triangulation to Poe’s “Arthur Gordon Pym.” Poe’s racial triangle comprised of three groups, which are Whites, Blacks, and Native Americans. On the other hand, Pym’s comprised of black explorers, a white couple called the Carvels and the Tekelians.
Additionally, the author himself was of mixed race and was confronted with identity issues and faced difficulties especially in fitting in the social dynamics of the contemporary society (Johnson 50). His identity affected the novel’s satire in various ways. First, much of the arguments in the novel are linked to the nature of blackness. The arguments on blackness and whiteness affect the author’s choice of characters. Matt Johnson chooses a protagonist’s who has issues with racial identity. Similar to the author, Chris Jaynes is a mulatto as he notes in the text “I am a mulatto in a long line of mulattoes, so visibly lacking in African heritage that I often appear to some uneducated eyes as a random, garden-variety white guy” (Johnson 135). Therefore, Johnson can tell the story in a mode that he understands because his protagonist is assigned an identity that is similar to his. Although Johnson structured much of the plot from Poe’s novel, his identity was significant in the way that he delivers the flow of the novel and to the reader.
Secondly, Johnson’s identity also was significant in influencing the reasons why he revises and expands the ideas of identity presented in Poe’s work. First, he did this to portray the countless ways that race is chosen and experienced in his characters’ lives. Jaynes relationship to blackness is not only demonstrated in his childhood when he is with his friend Garth in the library but also in his adulthood (Zekavat 53). Secondly, the author’s identity was significant in the novel as it helped him to depict how race is manifested in his characters. Johnson complicates the blackness of Chris Jaynes in his adulthood when Chris gathers a team for the fittingly named Creole Mining Company, so Johnson assembles a variety of models that can be useful to describe modern African American identity. Although he was not able to describe a considerably broad spectrum within the limits of Pym, he nonetheless presented a diverse collection of African Americanness (Wilks 27).
Body- Second Point
Secondly, humor is used as a coping mechanism by Chris Jayne’s crew when things get weird during their trip to Antarctica. The crew discovers that Arthur Pym was alive and well and he resided in the company of terrible snowmen (Johnson 250). When the crew’s communication with the outside world is disconnected, and the snowmen enslave them, Johnson employs humor which is useful to the crew as a way of coping with their current slave situation. Although dangerous and violent things happen to the crew during their time as slaves, somehow the author finds a way of bringing humor into the story which lights up the reader. The characters themselves are not merely complex but funny. These characters set a hilarious mode in the novel both in the speech and actions. After this period, the story develops into a crazy unwieldy escape which fails to support the smart satire present that had been described earlier in the novel (Zekavat 55).
Body- Third Point
Thirdly, the humorous element of the novel “Pym” lures the audience to dismiss Pym as a delusional relic from history as Christopher Jaynes wished to do. Instead, this critical element prompts the reader to question how “all contemporary subjects are post-slavery subjects wholly constituted by the broad codes of slavery and post-slavery” (Zekavat 58) Additionally, the humor in “Pym” is undoubtedly message-driven. In the Novel, Matt Johnson suggests that although the two key themes of the novel, race, and racism, seem to be unavoidable even in the most organized civilizations of the world, the only way to prevent probable occurrences of alienation and inequalities is to end the world itself. In fact, Pym proposes a third option of ending racism; the apocalypse.
Body- Fourth Point
The author also uses humor to revise the ideas of identity to portray the several approaches to which the characters chose, experience, and, manifest race in their lives. The author further uses humor to shows Chris Jayne’s connection to blackness although this relationship is not only considered in Pym. In fact, Garth and Chris had become friends in middle school because neither of them could adapt to the conventional ideas of black boyhood within their neighborhoods (Johnson 48). It is funny that both of them still have an almost similar identity because they both spend so much time in the school library and develop different interests. Although humor is not entirely useful in expressing how the characters in Pym develop their notions of identity, the author still uses humor to break the monotony during these descriptions and keep the reader interested in the story.
Body- Fifth Point
Use of humor in the novel is not entirely message-driven, but it is still significant. The fifth and perhaps the most apparent importance of humor in the novel is that it makes the text entertaining and more attractive. Previous critics of the work have noted that they loved the novel because it was hilarious and fun to read. Matt Johnson’s use of language contributes to the beautiful element of humor present in the text within the racial context (Zekavat 56). Humor in the text makes it easy for the author to approach the critical issue of racism in the history of America. The satirical approach to addressing race and racism makes the text to be received well by the reader. Although the text itself touches on some sensitive issues within the 19th century, U.S, Chris Jaynes, and his crew members still find a way of making the text sound funny which keeps it alive despite all the horrors linked with the novel.
The text in is a positive influence to the audience as...