FROM A PRIVATE LIMBO TO A WORLD OF COMMON PAIN: THE UNITY OF EDWARD LEWIS WALLANT'S FICTION

FRANCES G DELL, Fordham University

Abstract

Suffering cannot be separated from the human condition. It enters man's life in many forms and from many sources. Whether or not there is a hierarchy of suffering, whether one man suffers more than another in his daily life is the question that underlies the literary search of Edward Lewis Wallant. His method is to move his protagonists from their own personal sources of pain to a much larger world of suffering often inhabited by revolting strangers. To experience the depth of feeling and the sense of regeneration which each of his novels evokes is the test for the reader of Wallant's commitment to his vision. This dissertation traces the movement of his protagonists from the private to the communal by Wallant's use of ritual and its sustaining imagery.^ Chapter One: Through biographical detail, we are made aware of Wallant's acceptance of daily responsibility in his personal and private world and the creative use he made of his early experiences once he began to write. His use of Judeo-Christian elements, reflecting the ideas of Martin Buber and Paul Tillich, suggests a synthesis which parallels his belief that love grows from equal measures of pain and responsibility in man's everyday life.^ Chapter Two: The Human Season portrays the bereavement of Joe Berman, a fifty-nine year old plumber who has lost his wife. Joe employs the two kinds of ritual that Wallant has his protagonists engage in--those which isolate them from the outside world and those which allow them eventual passage to it. Through the workaday rituals Joe practices and dreams recalling his cultural-familial past, he comes to accept the fact that love and pain cannot be separated. This knowledge gives him the courage to move from his private limbo with the realization that he is a witness to life as are all humans.^ Chapter Three: The Pawnbroker confronts the suffering experienced by Sol Nazerman during the Holocaust. The victim of horrible acts of cruelty at the hands of his fellow men, Sol considers himself another species of human, in a hierarchy of pain above the customers he serves at his Harlem pawnshop. Wallant will redeem Nazerman from becoming a professional sufferer through what may be a human sacrifice, the death of his helper Jesus Ortiz. Nazerman becomes an heir to life and accepts his personal pain on a more universal level.^ Chapter Four: The Children at the Gate marks Wallant's transition to the comic voice. The ambivalence in this work grows from the irrational character of Sammy Kahan who seeks a spiritual heir to sensitize and indoctrinate. The action takes place in the awful limbo of a hospital, particularly in the children's ward. Angelo DeMarco, a nineteen-year old isolate, intelligent, self-disciplined, scientifically oriented drugstore clerk, will move toward the gate of life after his heart has been penetrated by Sammy's love and accidental death.^ Chapter Five: The Tenants of Moonbloom draws together the themes and images of the first three novels. His protagonist is a thirty-three year old failure, Norman Moonbloom, first seen in a semi-embryonic state working half submerged in a basement office of his brother's real estate firm. Norman has many insulating and self-sustaining rituals as do Joe, Sol, and Angelo, but he will be reborn to himself and to life when he forsakes isolation to engage in a 'holy war' of doing in the reclamation of his tenants' miserable dwellings. In so doing, he also enters the sustaining rituals of their lives. ^

Subject Area

American literature

Recommended Citation

DELL, FRANCES G, "FROM A PRIVATE LIMBO TO A WORLD OF COMMON PAIN: THE UNITY OF EDWARD LEWIS WALLANT'S FICTION" (1981). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI8123542.
https://fordham.bepress.com/dissertations/AAI8123542

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