REPLY TO 2 GROUPS FROM WHICH YOU WERE NOT ASSIGNED
PROMPT FOR GROUP 1:
This group will focus on the concept of conscience in analyzing The Secret History as a way of characterizing the nature of evil and make selective, brief supporting, and relevant references to other works studied.
GROUP 1: REPLY TO THIS
Initial Response Group 1
The Secret History as a Postmodern Bildungsroman
Donna Tart’s The Secret History can be characterized as a postmodern bildungsroman as its central characters are part of not only the elite, as students of Hampden, but a private group that is separate even among others with shared or similar socioeconomic standing. This is especially significant as Richard himself has a modest background and joins a circle of students who study Ancient Greek. This exemplifies the postmodern concept of language as a key factor of identity, as the Ancient Greek language and associated classical study becomes a dominating factor through which the central characters share a separate, subjective identity from the other student and, by extent, society as a whole. This is brought to attention through the way Richard and the others can communicate in Greek in front of other students without arousing suspicion. Their identity is subjective as while the classics students are differentiated from their peers, those outside the college cannot differentiate them from other Hampden students. Even among others in their field of study, as illustrated by Julian’s substitute, their ability to use the Ancient Greek language separates them.
The concept of individual identity as subjectivity is also found in the elevated position that Richard comes to occupy. In terms of the objective truth, Richard does not come from a wealthy family. However, within the circle of classics students, this comes secondary to the identity constructed—through the assumptions the students make of him—when he shows his proficiency in the language. This can be further understood through comparison to another postmodern novel, American Psycho, as its protagonist also constructs subjective identities for himself, separated by his behaviors among colleagues versus among victims. Bateman uses the language of fashion and appearance to change how his identity is perceived. This is to the extent that his colleagues flatly are unable to believe that he is guilty of murder, as murder goes against what is socially acceptable or expected of him. Meanwhile, Richard is, at first, believed or assumed to come from wealth only because he is expected to. The characters do eventually realize otherwise, but his identity is not actively challenged until Bunny raises questions against it. This is such a significant rejection that it becomes a personal motivation for Richard to go along with the plans for murder, as—in his mind—he needs the others to accept his claims in order to sustain his status.
Furthermore, truth claims are a significant element of the narrative, especially as objective, essential truth surrounding events themselves is often not only fogged, such as by drug use or self-preservation, but, because the story is told from Richard’s perspective, entirely unknowable. The reader only ever comes to understand contingent truths. Essential Truth claims, as characterized by a postmodern viewpoint, come to be distrusted, both by the reader and Richard as the latter becomes keen to the motivations and nature of certain characters, such as when Richard concludes that Henry intended for Richard to discover the plans for South America. The role of truth claims here can be understood through contrast with the role of truth claims in The Painted Bird, which, though also a bildungsroman, is a post-metaphysical narrative. Though the boy is also presented with essential truth claims, such as when under the mentorship of the Soviets—who present these claims from a position of power in order to maintain it—his movement from a state of innocence to a stage of knowledge is defined by his adoption of certain essential truth claims as a result of experiencing abuse. Meanwhile, the position of knowledge that Richard ends up in comes as a result of his absorption of contingent truth. His position as an outsider within the group is significant here, as each of its members confide in him individually with their sides of the story, or their contingent truths, as it is this experience amongst them that defines his reflection throughout the narrative.
Lastly, as the postmodern worldview sustains distrust for Truth claims made by those in positions of authority, it is additionally supported by the role that Hampden College plays in quieting the investigation of Bunny’s death, as the college acts solely to save reputation, and thus its power, rather than genuine concern for its students.
PROMPT FOR GROUP 2:
This group will focus on The Secret History as a postmodern bildungsroman and make selective, brief supporting references to other works studied. In what way is Richard Papen a protagonist of a coming-of-age narrative in a postmodern worldview
GROUP 2 – (PHO)
The post-modern worldview was a change in traditional perspectives from culture, science, philosophy, and technology. With the invention of the printing press, long-distance communication, and scientific discoveries came with it the less reliance on religion and God to explain the complex phenomena of the world. Due to this many works of literature took root that went in line with the post-modern perspective. Works such as American Psycho and The Painted Bird turned the idea of evil and connected the theme with rational scenarios. Rational scenarios where readers can connect evil to modern reasons such as mental health or absences of hospitality. The novel The Secret History by Donna Tart is also another example of a post-modern narrative that takes the reader on a fascinating yet dark tale where they can see firsthand the makings of a character from innocence to a state of knowledge.
The novel The Secret History is organized in a way where the narrator who is already in a state of adulthood is remembering his younger self. In a way, the narrator reveals to the reader his tale is one of a bildungsroman. A tale where readers can see the naïve yet innocent way the narrator (Richard) initially behaved so that he could be accepted into the prestige group he desperately wants to be a part of only later to find the errors and misjudgment of his ways. This outline from naïve innocence to knowledge/experience is the formula to tell whether a story is a bildungsroman or not. In the novel, Richard reflects that “his longing for the picturesque” developed by his Greek studies led him to his “fatal flaw” (Tart.7) An acquired wisdom or knowledge from experience is one of the primary factors associated with bildungsroman which Richard communicates early to the reader in the novel. Similar works such as the story of Adam and Eve and The Painted Bird also show the reader the character’s journey from innocence to experience and as a result, are able to see firsthand the character’s journey and absorb their lessons and how the lessons came about.
Due to the outline of the novel taking the form to a coming-of-age post-modern narrative, the themes associated with the novel are also that from a post-modern perspective. Concepts from the novel rely heavily on modern influence instead of supernatural belief. Early in the novel, Richard is conflicted not with superstition or the paranormal but with problems of philosophy that confuse his perspective on reality. To give one example, Richard remembers one of his classmate’s reasoning that “death is the mother of beauty” and “beauty is terror” (Tart. 39) which inevitably causes Richard to adopt this worldview by comparing it to the dark decay of the red autumn leaves. The paradox or irony here is his urge to join the Greek program because of his “longing for picturesque” (Tart.7) is the cause or start of his change in worldview. Richard is a character who throughout the novel deals with post-modern conflicts that eventually cause him to look at his classmates and the Greek program in a different and darker light.
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