TERROR AND TRAGIC OPTIMISM AS SUSTAINING CONSTRUCTS IN CAMUS’S THE PLAGUE AND SOYINKA’S SEASON OF ANOMY

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ABSTRACT


Camus’s The Plague has been read variously as an allegory of Nazi terror in France as well as a depiction of Camus's absurdist philosophy. Many critics of Soyinka’s Season of Anomy strangely also have interpreted the text as an allegory of the Nigerian civil war in which terror is seen as a political weapon. Although these modes of reading explore the resistance to terror, critical reading of a work cannot be achieved through allegory which searches for meaning outside the text. The present reading, therefore, while distancing itself from the above perspectives, undertakes a comparative examination of the two novels in order to demonstrate that terror and tragic optimism are their sustaining constructs. The study examines tragic optimism following Nietzsche’s notion of the universal instinct. In his theory of the Ubermensch, Nietzsche presents the figure of the Overman who is able to shatter the rules of rationality that are often built on mediocrity, and set up new ones out of his own superabundant life and power. This figure views life as evolving to higher forms with the human instinct as the spear-point of this evolution. In tragedy, the Overman resembles the “titanically striving” individual who struggles because he must. Tragic optimism as a Nietzschean notion that runs in opposition to Schopenhauerean pessimism, is thus about “saying yes” to life in all its tragic realities, an idea that runs through The Plague and Season of Anomy. Using formalist-oriented critical approach, this research shows that in the heroes’ confrontation with the “more than man”, the universal instinct and cheerfulness which they possess as heroic beings enable them to face up to what had to be done. In the paradox underlying tragic suffering in the texts, not only does the research suggest that collective suffering creates the necessity for solidarity, it also concludes that for the tragic optimist, defiant struggle is uplifting.


TABLE OF CONTENTS

Title Page
Table of contents
Abstract

CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION
1.1 Background of Study
1.2 Statement of Problem
1.3 Research Questions
1.4 Significance of Study
1.5 Purpose of Study
1.6 Scope and Limitations of Study
1.7 Research Methodology
1.8 Definition of Terms
1.9 Structure

CHAPTER TWO: LITERATURE REVIEW
2.1 Review on Camus’s The Plague
2.2 Review on Soyinka’s Season of Anomy

CHAPTER THREE: THE CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK
3.1 Tragedy as a Literary Mode
3.2 Nietzsche’s Concept of the Overman and the Universal Instinct

CHAPTER FOUR: FACING UP TO WHAT HAD TO BE DONE
4.1 Tragic Optimism and What Had to be Done
4.2 Cheerfulness before the Abyss

CHAPTER FOUR: CONFRONTATION OF MAN WITH THE MORE THAN MAN
5.1 Terror and the More than Man in The Plague and Season of Anomy
5.2 The Inexorable and Human Cussedness

CHAPTER SIX: THE PARADOX OF SUFFERING
6.1 From Solitude to Solidarity
6.2 Fulfillment through Tragic Struggle

CHAPTER SEVEN: CONCLUSION
WORKS CITED


CHAPTER ONE

INTRODUCTION

1.1 Background of Study

Nietzsche’s theory of the Ubermensch (the Overman) shows that the superior individual, propelled by tragic optimism, struggles relentlessly and cheerfully in the face of terror, a notion that is also applicable to characters in literature. In Camus’s The Plague and Soyinka’s Season of Anomy, tragic optimism shows the hero’s defiant will to struggle in the face of terrible circumstances. Literary studies in general and tragedy in particular, grapple with this question of the impulse that propels the hero’s defiant will to struggle in the face of terror. To be sure, Aristotle in his theory of tragedy, provides the background for apprehending the hero as one who must show great courage in the face of adversity. This individual must be accounted to be “more than man” (Oedipus the King, lines 29) in as much as the experience facing him is more than man. In a way, he connects to the figure that Nietzsche identifies as “a titanically striving individual who struggles because he must” (The Birth of Tragedy 72) and who must affirm the invincibility of the human spirit in the midst of terrible circumstances. According to Akwanya and Anohu, Nietzsche’s Superman “resembles the Aristotelian hero in so far as he stands above mediocrity but differs from him in that the latter is already realized” (44). Thus in his theory of the Ubermench (the Overman or Superman ), Nietzsche proposes that the superior individual fights defiantly and cheerfully in the face of suffering (Human All Too Human 340). Nietzsche indicates that the universal instinct, which the Overman possesses enables him find freedom in struggle, and for this fact, he cannot refuse to struggle no matter the degree of terror that faces him. His striving therefore has more to do with tragic optimism than with the outcome, an idea that is also applicable to the heroic characters in Camus’s The Plague and Soyinka’s Season of Anomy. Tragic optimism as a Nietzschean idea that runs in opposition to Schopenhauerean pessimism is that impulse that propels the tragic optimist to “say yes” to life in all its tragic realities. And facing the situation with cheerfulness, he achieves freedom through defiant struggle. In Iliad narrative model to which these two novels belong, the career of this individual is also to bear communal burden on his wide back. This study thus applies a formalist-oriented critical approach in its comparative examination of the characters’ will to action in The Plague and Season of Anomy and argues that terror and tragic optimism are the backbones that sustain the two novels as works of art.


1.2 Statement of Problem

There have been many critical works on Albert Camus’ The Plague and Wole Soyinka’s Season of Anomy such as essays, commentaries and book-length studies and these have too often attempted to evaluate the allegorical, philosophical and political implications of the texts. However, none of these studies has been devoted to a comparison between the two texts. The literature review in this study shows that The Plague has been read variously as an allegorical representation of the terror of Nazi invasion in France as well as a depiction of Camus’s absurdist philosophy. Strangely also, Season of Anomy has been considered as an allegory of the terror of the Nigerian civil war. Although these modes of reading reflect the resistance to terror, they cannot give an account of these texts as works of art as critical reading of a work cannot be achieved through allegory which searches for meaning outside the text. The present reading, therefore, while distancing itself

from the above perspectives, undertakes a comparative examination of the two novels in order to show that terror and tragic optimism are the infrastructures that sustain the texts as literary works. This art question is the yawning gap which this study attempts to fill.

1.3 Research Questions
In applying a formalist-oriented critical approach in the examination of the constructs of terror and tragic optimism in our chosen texts, this study seeks to provide answers to some fundamental questions based on the research gaps identified above. These questions....


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