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Smiling Nihilism

Author ZuoZuoYa
Tutor ZhiYu
School Sichuan International Studies University
Course Comparative Literature and World Literature
Keywords John Barth The Floating Opera nihilism suicide
Type Master's thesis
Year 2011
Downloads 25
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Based on the critical papers, this thesis gives a completely new understanding and interpretation of the novel of The Floating Opera by John Barth, a renowned American writer of the 20th century. The whole thesis consists of four chapters: 1. introduction; 2. theme, writing methods and structure; 3. understanding and interpretation of the text; 4.conclusion.Chapter one summarizes the critical opinions on The Floating Opera by American critics since 1960s from aspects of its theme and writing methods in a chronological order and displayed the research developments on the novel.Chapter two analyzes the novel’s theme, writing methods and basic structure. The analysis starts from John Barth’s own comments and is based on the understanding of the novel. As John Barth said, The Floating Opera is a comedy of nihilism in theme. In writing method, it modeled the Brazilian writer of Maria JoséSomerlate Barbosa in addition to exploiting the unique technique of the Barth himself: all the characters, plots and even the overall structure are arranged in the principle of“twins”. This section gives a rough division within the novel in structure.Chapter three is an interpretation of the novel, consisting of this paper’s sections one to four. It gives a completely new interpretation, following the internal progress of the novel and sticking to the text itself. Through the analysis of chapters II-V of the novel, section one points out chapters II-V brings forward the three motifs of life, death and love which the novel addresses and points out that Todd, the protagonist’s existence issue is closely connected with his love relationship with Jane. Sections two to three recalls Todd’s life experience before he attempts suicide, with section two discussing the disillusionment of his youth dream and lawyer’s career dream, which is actually the expression of Todd’s noble spiritual pursuit; and section three discussing his“life-in-the-face-of-death”issue, which is the expression of his despair to the love relationship based on the flesh. Section four discusses the internal relation between Todd’s life/death and his love relationship with Jane. Jane’s deciding to end the love relationship with Todd made him hopeless and desperate, thus attempt suicide. Finally, the failure of Todd’s suicide/murder plan resulted in his important turning of thought: a turning from“there is no final reason for living”to“there is no final reason for live or for suicide”, thus reached a conclusion of nihilism.The conclusion analyzes the root causes of Todd’s nihilism. The Floating Opera is actually a tragedy of love. Barth held that the reason of this tragedy lies in the imperfect communication between individuals. This imperfect communication caused the estrangement and alienation between individuals, making each individual a separate atom, and existing in loneliness. To live a lonely life is an unavoidable result of pursuing for the individual’s unification with the other. This is the human’s existence tragedy in modern society that John Barth shows in The Floating Opera.

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