Black Humor, Gallows Humor and Identity Crisis
Evensong’s Mother Night, and then analyze the identity crises of certain characters of the story. As I have written, there are many similarities between black humor and gallows humor, and in order to make a distinction between them, first I would like to point out those features that are shared and typical of both of them. To create such humor, the writer always confronts rationality with the chaos of the universe and the notion of death.
Both black humor and gallows humor function as a counterbalance which mitigates the seriousness of death, or a situation which eventually ends with death. In both cases the constraint of laughter Is rooted In the sense of Inertia, and In the acknowledgement of the Insensitivity of the universe to human reasoning. They are both based on a sense of defeat, because of which they cannot be triumphant satires, still they are comical for they reveal nonsense. Now that I have examined the common features of these two types of humor, I will proceed with the most salient difference between the two.
In the case of black humor, the object of laughter applies to the laughing subject as well, while it is quite different with gallows humor, as the deader cannot identify with a condemned character who is waiting for his own death. Obviously, the reader hasn’t experienced anything like that before, so the notion of impending death is unknown to them, that’s why they cannot put themselves In the place of that character, they feel like an outside observer Instead. In Kurt Evensong’s Mother Night there are many examples for both elements. The frame of the story takes place In an Israeli prison with the mall character, Howard W.
Campbell Jar. Writing his memoirs In It. At the very beginning of the story, the reader Is Informed by the narrator, – who is Campbell himself – that Campbell is waiting for his trial for war crimes sixteen years after the end of the Second World War. His crimes which are as “ancient” as some stones in the prison wall, later turn out to be justified as Campbell was only serving the US as a spy, providing information for them during the war. Depicting him defenseless and miserable in his prison cell could provide a good foundation for gallows humor however, his death at the very end of the story has thing to do with it.
It Is more like a serious and fatal result of his identity crisis, which I will touch upon later. But there are other parts of the story which actually contain black humor, for example the death of Sauerkraut who was a racist old man, “former Vice-Fundraiser of the German-American Bund,” The representation of his death Is quite factual and emotionless at the same time, and even his close friends and comrades react rather indifferently. After he drops dead they call for a more humorous. Epstein was Jewish, and I thought Jones or Kelley might say meeting to him about the way he was punching and poking Sauerkraut. But the two antique fascists were childishly respectful and dependent. ” The culmination of the comical events happens when the Black Fuehrer of Harlem arrives, who is the racist black chauffeur of Skyscraper’s company. “Everything all right up here? ” he said to Jones. Muff was up here so long. ” “Not quite,’ said Jones. “August Sauerkraut died. ” The Black Fuehrer of Harlem took the news in stride. “All dying, all dying,” he said. “Who’s goanna pick up the torch when everybody’s dead?
As I have said, Campbell story is a story about identity crisis Just like the whole novel, and the previously analyzed elements are there to soften the depressing effects of it. The term “identity crisis” was invented by Erik Erikson, a German psychologist who dealt with the development of the ego and that of the personality. According to him, identity crisis is the failure to achieve ego identity during adolescence however, we also use the term when we speak about the psychosocial state or condition of disorientation and role infusion caused by conflicting internal and external experiences, pressures, and expectations.
In Mother Night the external effects are obviously caused by the Second World War, and for me, the representation of Campbell guards and their conversations are the most expressive parts of the story, and the best examples of identity crisis. When the narrator characterizes them, and when they tell how they took part and what their roles were in the war, it turns out that they should also be behind bars with Campbell. These people turned their backs on their fellow Monterrey, their fellow sufferers and what is more repellent, they betrayed their own being.
There is a man, who tells us nostalgically about how he volunteered to be a member of the so called Condemnations. There is another one, who – despite the fact that he is Jewish – even became an AS member, and when Campbell shows him the transcript of one of his broadcasts, he criticizes it for not being passionate and fervent enough. In the case of the second guard, he did what he did to avoid death, but the first guard cannot Justify his decision. When Campbell asks him why he joined the Condemnations, he simply cannot give an answer and tells the main character that there were other volunteers as well.
The other guard, who Joined the AS says that he made his decision to avoid death, but at some points it seems that he even enjoyed his Job. “What an Aryan I made! ” – says he. The Second World War and the survival instinct of these people compelled them to put on masks and do things which normally they would never do. And they did it for so long, that eventually they loud identify with their role, and this identification confused them and distorted their original identity.
This is exactly what happens to the main character, Campbell as well. His ordeals start in Germany, where he is commissioned by an American soldier to spy for the U. S. As a Nazi playwright and from that point on, he is regarded as a Nazi by the whole world. Even though he is only acting, nobody knows who he really is and as a result, he becomes unsure about his own identity by the end of the story. There is a scene which takes place after the war ended, in which Campbell inverses with the agent, called Warrantee, who commissioned him. How else could I have survived? ” as you did. ” “You think I was a Nazi? ” I said. “Certainly you were,” he said. “How else could a responsible historian classify you? ” All in all, the moral of the story which is an admonition as well is worded by Bonnet at the beginning of the novel. It goes like this: “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be. ” For me, it means that we should always be true to ourselves and stick to those values which we consider the best.