IGNOU MEG 19 The Australian Novel Solved Assignment 2023-2024

 IGNOU MEG 19 The Australian Novel Solved Assignment 2023-24 | MA ENGLISH Assignment

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Answer all questions in this assignment.

Q1. Consider The Tree of Man by Patrick White as a pioneer novel.

The Tree of Man, Patrick White’s first major work to receive international recognition, was published in 1955. The novel, a bildungsroman (a novel of growth), chronicles the life of a farming couple, Stan and Amy Parker, and the difficulties they encounter when they come to settle in the remote and uninhabited inland districts of New South Wales, Australia. The Tree of Manis is about the expansion of both Stan Parker’s consciousness and the proliferation of the uninhabited outback into a village, and later a town. It is a soul stirring saga of the Australian wilderness doomed to submerge in soulless suburbia owing to modernity and industrialization.

The novel consists of twenty-six chapters, carefully divided into four parts, and relates the story of the settler couple from their youth to old age. Having Biblical undertones and written in epic style, it is not only about Stan Parker’s sojourn towards spiritual self-discovery, but also about economic and social transformations that were happening in twentieth century Australia. It portrays both ‘the mystery and poetry’ of Australian life as experienced by Stan Parker, its protagonist. Patrick White had thought of titling The Tree of Man as A Life Sentence on Earth. The novel was an outcome of the self-doubt which White continuously felt soon after his return to Australia in 1947 while he lived at Castle Hill, farming and raising animals.

The novel wonderfully conveys his experiences of “enjoying ‘the sleepy morning smell of cows’ or finding the ordeal exhilarating as men ‘rounded their shoulders and screwed up their eyes’ against fire, flood, or storm” (Qtd. in Brown 868). White was perhaps captivated by the purity and natural simplicity of pre-1914 rural Australia, which he has described in the following words: It was the exaltation of the average that made me panic most, and in this frame of mind, in spite of myself, I began to conceive another novel. Because the void I had to feel was so immense, I wanted to try to suggest in this book every possible aspect of life, through the lives of an ordinary man and woman. But at the same time I wanted to discover the extraordinary behind the ordinary, the mystery and poetry which alone could make bearable the lives of such people, and incidentally, my own life since return. (Qtd in Hansson n.pag.)


 Stan Parker, the son of Noakes and Ned Parker (a drunkard and blacksmith at Willow Creek), decides to settle, after the death of his parents, in outback Australia at the end of the nineteenth century, building a farm out of the bush. His mother, before her death, has told him that his father owned a piece of scrubby land in the Hills, and Stan Parker resolves to settle there, after his mother’s death, clearing the bushes and the trees and building “a plain but honest house” in the uninhabited place. The novel not only portrays the development of the man but also of the town: the growth of Stan Parker’s body and soul is juxtaposed alongside the expansion of suburbia. Parker marries Amy Fibbens, and both of them settle down. They appear to be Adam and Eve on that uninhabited land.

 They clear the bush, build their home, and raise a cow. They also encounter the hardships of Australian bush life: drought, flood, and bushfires. Soon some other families come – the O'Dowds, the brawling humorous Irish couple, and the poor Quigleys— and the settlement spreads, acquires a name (Durilgai), a Post Office and stores. The Parkers’ life, which was initially marked by the pastoral and idyllic existence wherein the couple lived in harmony with the natural wilderness, is soon replaced by the signs of development, urbanization and modernity. Stan and Amy Parker later have two children, Ray and Thelma. With the passage of time, both the couple and the children grow, and the children, Ray and Thelma, leave for the city from the remote Australian wilderness.

Ray disappears to explore the world and make a fortune, soon to be involved in a racing scandal, and is later murdered. Thelma too moves to the city, attends a Business school, becomes an efficient office assistant, and later marries her wealthy boss, the solicitor Dudley Forsdyke. Meanwhile, Stan and Amy Parker have grown older, still farming and living in the outback of Australia, which has been transformed into the suburb of a large city. The novel ends with Stan Parker’s grandson remembering his deceased grand-father in the midst of the bush field lane, which is all that has remained of the virgin bushland which Stan Parker had cleared with his axe.

Love and sexuality

 In the novel, Stan and Amy Parker appear to be Adam and Eve, who start a new life on the virgin bushland. They are ordinary peasants and White has not tried to romanticize their conjugal relationship. Although the love of Stan and Amy for each other is an ennobling emotion, yet it is far from perfection. Stan and Amy are united by their flesh: Flesh is heroic by moonlight. The man took the body of the woman and taught it fearlessness. The woman’s mouth on the eyelids of the man spoke to him from her consoling depths. The man impressed upon the woman’s body his sometimes frightening power and egotism. The woman devoured the man’s defenselessness. (30) Despite the random outbursts of their sexual passion, Stan and Amy find it impossible to connect with each other and feel discontentment. Because of their inability to communicate with each other, they experience a coldness in their marriage.

As a consequence, Amy develops bitterness while Stan is engulfed by stoic indifference. Writing about the union of Stan and Amy Parker, David Marr, in Patrick White’s biography, says: The Parkers have this rocklike faith in union, and a wife who humbles herself to her husband. The Parkers' marriage is revealed with extraordinary intimacy as its passions build and die. Here is love in many guises even silence, fondness and habit; jealousy and betrayal, dependence and intractable frustration; the ascendancy of wife over husband and then in the next breath of husband over wife.

The Parkers come to live the lives of intimate strangers but they endure, unflinchingly, as a couple. (289) Amy, a not so beautiful industrious, practical woman, is impatient and greedy for love. Amy is matter and Stan the spirit; Amy the body, Stan the soul. Her love for Stan is not without selflessness, cannot transcend materiality/physicality and demands complete possession of her husband. It lacks the metaphysical, mystical moorings of Stan’s transcendental quest. However, Stan’s failed relationship with Amy is as much her fault as his. For whatever philosophical reasons, Stan Parker is unable to let her have him fully, and this frustration leads her to adultery.

She is seduced by a travelling salesman Leo, and this transgressive violation of marriage turns out to be self-destructive for her, instilling a deep sense of guilt without the possibility of atonement. In the novel, love is not some romantic pursuit, leading to the fulfillment of desire, nor does it connote the synthesis of the senses and the spirit, where physicality is transcended. In fact, Stan and Amy Parker are unable to achieve the reconciliation of the physical and the spiritual and suffer from fragile incompleteness.

RELIGIOUS VISION White considered the religious impulse to be at the centre of the human existence. In one of his interviews, he argued: “Religion. Yes, that's behind all my books. What I am interested in is the relationship between the blundering human being and God . .. I think there is a Divine Power, a Creator who has an influence on human beings if they are willing to be open to him” (Quoted in Bliss 6). In another interview to Peter Beatson, he remarked “I suppose what I am increasingly trying to do in my books is to give professed unbelievers glimpses of their own unprofessed actor. I believe most people have a religious factor, but are afraid that by admitting it they will forfeit their right to be considered intellectuals” (Quoted in Bliss 6-7). White believed in the divine power and always tried to explore this transcendental reality through the symbols, tropes and imagery in his novels. Elucidating his artistic position apropos religion, White contends: “I belong to no church, but I have a religious faith; it's an attempt to express that, among other things, that I try to do . . . In my books I have lifted bits from various religions. . . Now, as the world becomes more pagan, one has to lead people in the same direction in a different way” (Quoted in Bliss 7).

Stan Parker’s mother asked him “to promise to love God, and never to touch a drop” (The Tree of Man11). His mother’s God, Stan thought, “was a pale-blue gentleness” unlike his father’s fiery, gusty God (11). Juxtaposed with Mrs. Parker's God-image, a sentimentalized version of the God of the New Testament, Ned Parker's God is the elemental, “jealous God" (Exodus 20:5) of the Old Testament who “bent the trees until they streamed in the wind like beards” and “cut the throat of old Joe Skinner, who was nothing to deserve it”(The Tree of Man 11-12). The narrator of the novel tells us that Stan Parker “had been brought up in a reverence for religion, but he had not yet needed God.

He rejected, in his stiff clothes, the potentialities of prayer” (The Tree of Man 35). Stan can feel the presence of God, without ever naming God, in the elements of nature. Parker does not pray to God in the conventional sense of religion, but to what he could know of God from light or silences. He has a religious sense which might reflect the Judeo-Christian elements:

“He went to church too, singing the straight psalms and rounder hymns, in praise of that God which obviously did exist. Stan Parker had been told for so long that he believed, of course he did believe. He sang that praise doggedly, in a voice you would have expected of him, approaching the music honestly, without embellishing it” (The Tree of Man295). However, he discards the orthodox/conventional Christian idea of God. He constantly searches for the flash of illuminating knowledge of God through thunderstorm, flood, drought and other natural events which remind him of human limitations. Parker wishes to uncover the truth/reality behind this world of appearances considering religion, creeds, and such other orthodoxies to be mere masks which disguise the truth of the world. Parker is aware that people use the religion to evade confronting their failures in life. His reaction to the devastation caused by flood and fire, and other natural events is to accept the failures of life with humility. Stan persists in his search of the elusive God, whose epiphanic realization he experiences just before his death. The conversation between Stan Parker and the young Evangelist is so interesting which aptly foregrounds Parker’s religiosity/spirituality.

When the young evangelist tells Parker about ‘the glories of salvation’, the old, unhappy Parker fidgeted and didn’t say a word. On being asked whether Parker believed in God or not, Parker wanted to tell him that “if you [evangelist] can understand, at your age, what I have been struggling with all my life, then it is a miracle” (The Tree of Man475). He has been throughout his life searching for the evidence of God. His search is towards permanence. He earnestly looks for the “communion of soul and scene” in which the world of nature is illumined with divinity.

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Q2. Explain the significance of the title of Yasmine Gooneratne’s novel A Change of Skies.

While multiculturalism may be applauded for the beauty and promise of diversity, and while this may be reflected in multicultural literature, there is a variety of issues that arise. These different backgrounds imply different perspectives and worldviews which can be the wellspring of tension, distrust and intolerance. Both the diversity and these issues are especially apparent in settler colonies like Australia where immigrants from different countries, of different ethnicities make up the population. Multicultural Australian writers, looking back to different cultures reflect their concerns in their writing. Developing in close proximity, these cultures have an impact on each other.

Each takes on cultural elements of the other. This process of assimilation and acculturation leads to a hybridity, the coming together of various elements which may create ambivalence. But this also creates new cultural spaces. Multicultural novelists writing from these spaces, display these attributes. We are going to focus on one such writer, Sri Lankan Australian, Yasmine Gooneratne

Yasmine Gooneratne (1935- ) is a well-known novelist, poet, essayist, academic, biographer, literary critic and bibliographer. She was born in Sri Lanka in 1935 to a Sri Lankan father and a mother of Trinidadian origin. She was educated at Bishop’s College in Colombo and the University of Ceylon-Peradeniya, where she obtained a first-class in an honours degree in English in 1959. This achievement earned her a scholarship to Cambridge University from where she received her doctorate in 1962. Her doctoral research was on the development of the English language literature of Ceylon between 1815 and the end of 1870s. She returned to the University of Peradeniya to teach for a decade.

She immigrated to Australia in 1972 where she took up the position of senior lecturer in English at Macquarie University in New South Wales. In 1981, Macquarie University bestowed on her its first ever degree of Doctor of Letters (D Litt) for her scholarly and creative work and her contribution to international scholarship. Gooneratne became the Foundation Director of Macquarie’s Postcolonial Literatures and Languages Research Centre in 1989 and continued to serve till 1993. She was appointed to a Personal Chair in English Literature at Macquarie University in the early 1990s. She was awarded the Order of Australia for distinguished service to literature and education in 1990.

In the same year, she was invited to become the Patron of the Jane Austen Society of Australia and the Vice-President of the Federation Internationale des Langues et Litteratures Modernes (FILLM, UNESCO). Respected for her academic and literary abilities, Gooneratne was placed on a committee appointed by the Federal Government to review the Australian system of Honours and Awards from 1994-1995. Since 1995, she has held positions on both the Australia Abroad Council and the Visiting Committee of the Faculty of Creative Arts at the University of Wollongong. In 1998, she became a member of Asialink, a non-academic department backed by the Myer Foundation and the University of Melbourne which promotes public understanding of Asian countries and Australia.

She became an emeritus professor in 1999. Gooneratne’s main research interests have been in eighteenth century and Romantic literature, in modern and contemporary literature in English from Asia, in postcolonial literature. She has also researched and worked on film, fiction and biography. She has been a visiting professor atvarious places around the world including Edith Cowan University (Western Australia), Universities of Yale, Michigan and Princeton (USA), Jawaharlal Nehru University (India), and the University of the South Pacific (Fiji). She is a founder-trustee of the Pemberley International Study Centre, a foundation set up by her husband in Sri Lanka to host selected writers, scholars and creative writers. She is a Patron of the Galle Literary Festival and director of The Guardian Angels, an editing service focused on new writers from Sri Lanka and Australia. Throughout her busy and varied career, she continued to maintain her links with Sri Lanka. Despite having moved to Australia, she continued to edit New Ceylon Writing, the journal she had started in 1970 while working at the University of Peradeniya.Yasmine Gooneratne is married to Dr Brendon Gooneratne, a physician, environmentalist, and historian. They married in 1962 and have two children, a son and a daughter. She currently lives in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Young Sri Lankan academic Bharat Mangala-Devasinha, along with his wife Navaranjani, (later to become Barry and Jean in Australia) migrates to Australia to pick up a short-term assignment in the South Cross University. The novel simultaneously follows the journey of Bharat aka Barry’s grandfather to Australia in the late 19th century. Despite the parallels, the two journeys end very differently. Edward, the grandfather, realizes that though this has been a tremendous learning experience, his true home lay back in Sri Lanka to which he ultimately returns to marry his sweetheart, Emily, and to establish a household and to take on the ‘duties and responsibilities of an inherited tradition’(294).

‘I have seen enough,’ he notes in his diary, ‘and learned enough of myself, too, to understand that a life served here is not for me’ (166). On the other hand, Bharat and Navaranjani, having now taken on the Australia-friendly names of Barry and Jean Mundy, decide to stay on in Australia and to make it their home despite being subjected initially to local prejudice against expatriates from the East, especially from Asia. In the early years in Australia, they try to maintain their Sri Lankan identity, only tentatively opening themselves out to Australian culture.

But later, in the process of happily meeting the challenges of necessary assimilation and acculturation, they soon settle down in the new land, developing a sense of place and rootedness in their adoptive culture. It appears that in the new globalized world order, it is easier for them to accept Australian culture than it was for Edward a century earlier. Their decision to become Australian citizens is finally precipitated by the tremendous political disturbance that overtakes Sri Lanka.

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Q3. “Kim Scott’s novel Benang is a polyphonic text.” Comment on this statement.

Polyphony, in literature, refers to a narrative style that gives voice to multiple characters and perspectives. It creates a chorus of voices, each contributing to the overall story and enriching the reader's understanding.

Evidence of Polyphony in Benang:

Multiple Narratives: "Benang" is not driven by a single protagonist. It weaves together the stories of various characters across four generations of a Noongar family. This allows the reader to experience history, trauma, and resilience from different vantage points.

Oral Histories and Memories: The novel incorporates oral traditions, a hallmark of Aboriginal storytelling. Elders' memories and stories become integral parts of the narrative, adding another layer of voice and perspective.

Fragmentary and Non-Linear: "Benang" deviates from a traditional linear story structure. It employs flashbacks, fragmented narratives, and dreamtime elements. This creates a sense of collective memory and a non-singular view of history.

Shifting Perspectives: The narrative voice shifts throughout the novel. We might hear from a descendant, then be transported back in time to witness the experience of an ancestor. This allows for a more comprehensive and multifaceted portrayal of the characters and their experiences.

Impact of Polyphony:

Richer Historical Context: By giving voice to multiple generations, "Benang" offers a deeper understanding of the impact of colonization on Noongar people. The reader experiences the ongoing struggles and resilience across time.

Challenging Colonial Narratives: The polyphonic structure allows Scott to challenge the dominant narrative of Australian history. By offering Noongar perspectives, the novel sheds light on the injustices and complexities often overlooked.

Emotional Connection: Through multiple voices, the reader can connect with different characters and their emotions. This fosters empathy and understanding for the hardships and triumphs of the Noongar people.


Kim Scott's "Benang" effectively utilizes a polyphonic narrative style. This allows for a richer portrayal of history, a deeper understanding of the characters, and a powerful challenge to traditional narratives. The diverse voices create a tapestry that reflects the complexities of inter-generational trauma and the enduring spirit of the Noongar people.

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Q4. Discuss with suitable examples, how Peter Carey mingles ‘fiction’ with ‘historical accounts’ in his effort to arrive at a ‘true history’ of a social outlaw, in True History of the Kelly Gang.

True History of the Kelly Gang is Peter Carey’s marvelous imaginative reconstruction of Ned Kelly’s life story. Based partly on historical documents and on the remarkable writing found in Kelly’s Jerilderie letter, the novel closely follows the known facts of a figure now widely regarded as both a heroic opponent of England’s unjust colonial rule and an early precursor to Australian nationalism. Having lost his own father at the age of twelve and knowing what it is like to be raised on "lies and silences," Ned Kelly sets out to write the history of his life for his infant daughter so that she will someday know the truth about him. What follows is an extraordinary narrative of the Kelly family’s struggle to survive in Australia’s unyielding bush country.

As dirt-poor Irish immigrants they are looked upon by the English settlers as "a notch beneath the cattle" and face continual police harassment and the threat of eviction from their land. When his father is arrested and subsequently dies, Ned becomes the man of the house and fights fiercely to support and protect his mother and siblings. After becoming an unwilling apprentice to the famous bushranger Harry Power, Ned is drawn increasingly into a life of crime. He fights with his mother’s suitors and the police, and when he shoots the treacherous Constable Fitzgerald in self-defense, Ned is forced to flee into the wild back country. With his younger brother and two loyal friends he outsmarts the police, eludes a massive manhunt, commits crimes of spectacular daring, and falls in love, all the while gaining widespread support from poor oppressed farmers.

True History of the Kelly Gang gives readers an unforgettable portrait of the man behind the myth, the trusted friend and loving son and father who would not sacrifice his integrity to save his life and who planted the seeds of rebellion in the consciousness of a fledgling nation.

1. In Australia, Ned Kelly is so revered as a national icon that his image was placed on center stage during the opening ceremonies of the Summer 2000 Olympic Games. Though his legacy is still controversial and some regard him as a criminal and murderer, he is widely seen as a champion of the oppressed and a forerunner of Australian nationalism. What aspects of Kelly’s character and actions might be responsible for his heroic status? What heroic feats does he accomplish in the novel? In what ways does the novel present a realistic rather than mythic or romanticized portrait of the man?

2. True History of the Kelly Gang is fiction, yet most of the characters in the novel existed as real people and many of the events are based on historical fact. What complications arise from using fiction to tell the truth? Can a factually based imaginative reconstruction present a truer or more accurate account of people than straightforward nonfiction can? What distinctive pleasures does the historical novel afford?

3. Ned Kelly begins by writing that his history "will contain no single lie may I burn in Hell if I speak false" [p. 7], and much in his narration is concerned with setting the record straight. Is Kelly a reliable narrator? Why should his history be more "true" than other versions of these events? What aspects of Kelly’s voice and character convey a feeling of authenticity?

4. Why does Ned Kelly address his history to his daughter? What effect does he hope it will have on her? What are his motives for writing?

5. Throughout the novel, Ned Kelly represents himself as a person who was pushed into the life of an outlaw by forces beyond his control. "What choice did I have?" he asks, when he kills Strahan at Stringybark Creek. "This were the ripe fruit of Constable Alexander Fitzpatrick" [p. 250]. What are the forces, individual and political, that influence his fate? In what ways is Fitzpatrick responsible for this killing?

6. What effect does Harry Power have on the young Ned Kelly? What does Ned learn from him? In what ways does Ned define himself against Harry Power?

7. Looking back on the moment that Harry Power told him that he had killed Bill Frost, Ned thinks: "Now it is many years later I feel great pity for the boy who so readily believed this barefaced lie I stand above him and gaze down like the dead look down from Heaven" [p. 123]. At what other points in the novel is Ned betrayed by the dishonesty of others? What does his willingness to trust suggest about his character? Why would he liken this recollection to the dead looking down from Heaven?

8. How are the Irish in general, and the Kelly family in particular, regarded by the English in Australia? What methods do the police use to intimidate and control them? In what ways can the novel be read as an indictment of English colonialism?

9. When Tom Lloyd is arrested for the shooting of Bill Frost, Ned returns because, as he tells his mother, "I can’t let Tom do my time". By what ethical code does Ned live? Where else does he refuse to violate this personal code of honor? How do his own ethics contrast with those of the police, squatters, and judges who are arrayed against him? What are the consequences of Kelly’s strict adherence to his code?

10. What do Ned’s relationships with Joe Byrne, his mother, his brother Dan, his wife Mary, and their child reveal about the kind of man he is? Why is it impossible for him to flee with Mary to America? How has his relationship with his father–and his father’s history–shaped him?

11. Ned Kelly claims that his gang had "showed the world what convict blood could do. We proved there were no taint we was of true bone blood and beauty born" [p. 337]. To what extent is Ned Kelly aware of himself as an actor on the historical stage? To what extent should he be regarded as a revolutionary? What events lead to his growing political consciousness?

12. Though possessing little formal education, Ned Kelly was in fact a remarkable writer, as evidenced by the 1879 Jerilderie letter, which Kelly dictated to Joe Byrne and which survives today. What aspects of Kelly’s writing, as Carey represents it, seem most distinctive? How is his writing regarded by others in the novel? What does he hope his writing–in the letter to Mr. Cameron and in the pamphlet he tries to publish–will accomplish? In what ways does Peter Carey’s novel fulfill this hope?

13. True History of the Kelly Gang is preceded by an epigraph from William Faulkner: "The past is not dead. It is not even past." How does this quote illuminate what happens in the novel? In what sense do both English colonial history and Ned Kelly’s personal past affect the events in the novel? What does this epigraph, and the novel itself, imply about similar contemporary conflicts in Ireland and elsewhere?

14. After his capture in 1880, Ned Kelly said, "If my lips teach the public that men are made mad by bad treatment, and if the police are taught that they may exasperate to madness men they persecute and ill treat, my life will not be entirely thrown away." In what ways does Kelly’s life, as it is presented in True History of the Kelly Gang, serve as a warning about the consequences of injustice and persecution?

Born in Australia in 1943, Peter Carey lives in New York City with his wife, Alison Summers, and their two sons. The author of six previous novels and a collection of stories, he won the Booker Prize for Oscar and Lucinda; his other honors include the Commonwealth Prize and the Miles Franklin Award.

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Q5. Write short notes of around 200 words each on the following:

a. Trace the development of the novel in nineteenth century Australia, and critically evaluate its themes and concerns.

Regarding the development of the novel in nineteenth-century Australia, it's important to note that the novel as a literary form gained prominence during this period, reflecting the social, cultural, and political changes of the time. Early Australian novels often focused on themes such as exploration, settlement, colonialism, and the clash of cultures between Indigenous Australians and European settlers. These novels served not only as literary expressions but also as means of shaping national identity and exploring the complexities of Australian life.

Critically evaluating the themes and concerns of nineteenth-century Australian novels involves examining how they addressed issues such as:

Colonialism and Settler-Indigenous Relations: Many novels depicted the challenges and conflicts arising from European colonization and its impact on Indigenous communities. They often portrayed the harsh realities of dispossession, cultural clashes, and attempts at reconciliation.

National Identity: Australian novels explored questions of national identity, often grappling with the tension between British influences and emerging Australian identity. Themes of belonging, loyalty, and patriotism were common.

Social Realities: Novels of the period often depicted the social realities of colonial life, including class distinctions, gender roles, and the struggles of settlers to adapt to the harsh environment.

Nature and Landscape: The Australian landscape played a significant role in shaping literary themes. Novels frequently portrayed the unique environment, its beauty, challenges, and its impact on the characters' lives and identities.

Narrative Techniques: The development of narrative techniques in Australian novels evolved, reflecting influences from British literature while also incorporating local themes and settings.

Overall, nineteenth-century Australian novels not only contributed to the development of Australian literature but also provided a platform for exploring national identity, cultural diversity, and the impact of colonialism. They continue to be studied for their insights into historical perspectives and their representation of early Australian society.

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b. Examine how Keneally engages with the complex nature of righteousness and virtue through the character Oskar Schindler in Schindler’s Ark.

Thomas Keneally’s nonfiction novel Schindler’s List is based on the true story of Oskar Schindler, a man known for astonishing acts of generosity. At great personal risk to his own life, Schindler helps over a thousand Jewish people survive the Holocaust during World War II (and helps slow down the German war effort in other ways too). Many of these survivors can’t explain why Schindler would act so selflessly when, before the war, he seemed to be a regular German industrialist with few particularly virtuous qualities.

In fact, not all of Schindler’s generosity is selfless: in his dealings with Germans, Schindler uses generosity quite tactically, offering “gratitude” as a bribe to get what he wants. Even Schindler’s dealings with the Jewish people he helps arguably have a selfish element to them: later in life, he ends up relying on his former prisoners, both financially and emotionally. Keneally’s retelling of Schindler’s story thus demonstrates that virtue isn’t black and white—people tend to be complicated, a mixture of both selfishness and selfless, and people with selfish qualities can still be capable of generosity and self-sacrifice. Moreover, it suggests that even small-scale acts of selflessness are worthwhile and impactful.

Oskar Schindler isn’t an outwardly saintly man, particularly in his earlier life, and this makes his eventual selflessness all the more surprising and complicated. One of Schindler’s noteworthy flaws is how he treats his wife, Emilie. Despite his reputation for kindness, Schindler is, at best, indifferent toward his wife, having multiple affairs and making little attempt to hide them. Schindler is also a heavy drinker and smoker, which clashes with certain stereotypes of how virtuous people should act. Perhaps the biggest gray area in Schindler’s life is his involvement with the Nazi Party as a younger man.

Though he was clearly never a hardliner, it is difficult to determine to what extent young Schindler agreed with the Party’s goals and to what extent he was just playing the system. Though Keneally and almost all the Jewish people saved by Schindler’s actions agree that his good deeds far outweigh the bad ones, this doesn’t mean Schindler is innocent of all wrongdoing. He, like all people, is complicated and imperfect.

Though Schindler remains a morally complicated figure, throughout the war he continuously puts himself at risk to save other people, suggesting that selfishness and selflessness aren’t clear-cut or mutually exclusive categories. One of the complicated elements of Schindler’s character at the beginning of the war is his desire to seek a profit. When he first meets Itzhak Stern, he has Stern look over the books of a Jewish business he is thinking of taking over to make sure it is a solid venture. Schindler doesn’t have any plan to rescue Jewish people yet; despite his disagreements with the Nazi Party, he is just another German industrialist trying to make a profit in occupied Poland.

 It’s only after talking with Stern that Schindler’s plan (to save Jewish prisoners by keeping them alive as workers in his factory) begins to take shape. As the war goes on, however, and Schindler finds his own life in danger multiple times, and he ends up in prison three times. Schindler doesn’t know who reports him to the Nazis—anyone who happens to witness what Schindler is doing to help the Jewish prisoners could report him.

This means Schindler’s life is constantly in danger, yet he makes the selfless decision to accept this risk. By the end of the book, Schindler has given away most of his fortune, with a large chunk of it spent on creating the Brinnlitz camp, where his prisoners go after the dissolution of  Płaszów. The factory at Brinnlitz does not make any materials for the war effort and therefore does not make any money for Schindler—its only purpose is to help his Jewish prisoners try to survive until the end of the war. Schindler, then, has finally given up his role as an industrialist and put aside any selfish stake he could have had in the factory.

Though he remains a flawed person and never gives up his womanizing ways, his decision to sideline his business interests and put himself at risk to save his prisoners shows that even people who are selfish in some respects can be selfless in other respects.

Given the small scale yet powerful impact of Schindler’s actions throughout the book, his story also suggests that acting virtuously doesn’t necessarily require grand gestures. At one point in the book, Schindler’s Jewish accountant (and trusted confidante) Itzhak Stern quotes a Talmudic verse to Schindler that has a profound impact on his way of thinking:

“He who saves a single life saves the world entire.” This verse suggests that acts of selflessness don’t have to be huge and profound to be impactful, because helping even one person is worthwhile. And indeed, although Schindler’s helps a relatively small number of people compared to the millions who died in the Holocaust, his actions still matter to those he saved (and to the millions of people his story has gone on to inspire). When Abraham Bankier and some other Jewish workers are rounded up to be shipped away because they lack Blauscheins, Schindler personally comes to the station to save his men.

 An SS guard there is dismissive of Schindler’s efforts, saying that any men he saves will just be replaced by others on the list. Schindler recognizes that this might be true—that his efforts might be futile, and that perhaps it is selfish to favor his friends when so many others are suffering. Still, he lives according to the Talmudic verse: while he isn’t a perfect person and knows that he can’t save every victim of the Holocaust, he also knows that even saving one life is tremendously valuable.

Back in September 1939, soon after Germany invaded Poland, Schindler comes to Cracow. Although within a month, he shows signs of being discontent with Nazism, he can see that Cracow is a good location and that he can make a lot of money there. 

Schindler’s family is from Moravia, once a part of Austria, which became part of Czechoslovakia in 1918. Young Hitler would eventually become obsessed with reuniting German-speaking people in areas like where Schindler grew up. Schindler’s mother was a devout Catholic, while his father was a heavy drinker and smoker and more dismissive of religion (as his son, too, would eventually be). Schindler had a couple Jewish school friends growing up, and his next-door neighbor was a rabbi.

The book focuses on Schindler’s parents because their lives follow a surprisingly similar pattern to Schindler’s own life, with Schindler mirroring his father and Schindler’s eventual wife, Emilie, being similar to Schindler’s mother. In addition, Schindler’s disinterest in religion and his personal relationships with Jewish people may partially explain why doesn’t fully buy into the Nazis’ worldview later in life.

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