Some Novels would make us think deeper, opening the innermost recesses of our souls. We would often find abysses, forests engulfed with wildfires, and this would disturb us profoundly. They would keep asking questions only to make us feel like groping in the dark. Louis Ferdinand Celine’s Journey to the End of the night and Japanese author Ozamu Dazai’s No Longer Human are novels that belong to this category. Hailed as misanthropic classics, they portray the world around them in a gloomy manner. Protagonists are hopeless, helpless and sullen and they are written in a style that verges on insanity.
About the Authors
Widely known as one of the greatest writers in French Literature, Celine was born in Courbevoie, in 1894. His parents were middle class, and the young Celine was sent to England and Germany so he could attain proficiency in foreign languages. He joined the French Army during World War 1 and was wounded. The spectacles of war probably would have made Celine a misanthrope. He also worked in the French administered Cameroon, where he developed a distaste for colonialism. He later became a medical doctor in 1924. He worked for the health department of the League of Nations, and this involved extensive travels to Europe, Africa, Canada, The United States and Cuba. He wrote Voyage au bout de la nuit (Journey to the end of the night) in 1932 and soon attracted a considerable fan following. His major works apart from the Journey to the End of the night are Death of installment plan, Guignol’s band and Castle to Castle. He died in 1961.
Ozamu Dazai was born in Kanagi, a remote hinterland in Japan to a wealthy landowner. He is said to be influenced by legendary writers like Murasaki Shikibu and Fyodor Dostoyevsky. He did his schooling and later parts of his education in Japan itself. He is said to be profoundly influenced by Gidayu, a sort of chanted narration, used in traditional Japanese Puppet theatres. He was an active writer, contributing to college magazines during his studying years. He led a chaotic life, haunted by depression, alcohol and lingering thoughts about suicide. He tried to commit suicide many times, but all of them had failed. Formally disowned by his family, he floated like a cloud in the endless sky of despondency. He dabbled with different styles of narratives, such as the first person biographical style, which would later become his trade mark. He wrote Ningen Shikkakku ( No Longer Human) in 1948. It is known as a quasi- autobiography, a story of a young, distraught, self- destructive man and today classified as modern Japanese classic. He committed suicide in 1948 with his partner. Tomie Yamazaki.
Both novels are now recognized for their dark themes, gloomy writing styles, which brinks on insanity. Both are classics in their own native languages, and opens up the portals of despondency and death.
Context of Journey to the End of the Night
The world was in shambles in 1914. A world war had been fought by global powers, and people were suffering. New powers were raising on the horizon of world politics. France had lost most of her monopoly in this context. She had been past the golden rule of Napoleon, punctuated by invasions and debacles. This New France was full of confused people. They despised and questioned almost everything, especially topics such as patriotism and war.
Celine was a by-product of this gloomy, lost generation. His mind was full of anger and sadness, as he didn’t get any answers for anything. He pondered over the topics that had haunted him, and that had culminated in this outstanding classic.
Journey to the End of the Night celebrates the Philosophy of failure. There are no winners, only losers here. Celine, like a maverick, searches for truth, but finally realizes with a grin that it doesn’t even exist. Like Nietzsche’s Zarathustra realizes the death of God, Celine understands the illusion of truth. There are no truths, only plausibility’s. It is the prerogative of the seeker to understand this which most of us would overlook.
Context of No Longer Human
Japan had lost the war. The imperialistic philosophy had died a painful death, with the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. From this abstruse nihilism, from this ashes of fallen dreams, Ozamu Dazai created his swansong- No Longer Human.
Although this novel doesn’t directly address the bitter topic of politics, there are strong undertones of it throughout the novel. The narrator is a totem, a failed silhouette, who looks at the whole world with dismay. He does a thousand things, only to fail. He is always an outcast, an outsider, who always becomes a pawn in the cruel game of fate.
Anti- humanism also forms a prop in the story. Like the Romanian Misanthropic Philosopher, Emil Cioran, Dazai also perceived the world as a dark abyss, populated by cruel and mean human beings. For the narrator of the story, distrusting the world is the only way to survive and exist. He is suspicious about everything. This universal mistrust forms the crux of the story.
Characters in the Journey of the End of the Night
He is portrayed as a gloomy medical student who detests concepts such as Patriotism and Masculinity, as he believes these concepts are detrimental to the well- rounded development of humans. Bardamu goes to Africa, and witnesses the capriciousness and malignant hatred of other fellow human beings. He is rejected so many times by women in his life. Most of these women are having lofty concepts about masculinity. He is befriended by a man by name Leon Robinson, who us actually a thug. Robinson would haunt Bardamu all his life. Bardamu experiments with life all the time, and gets weird experiences. He seems at times cowardly and gloomy but in reality, he is Celine’s alter ego (Like Bardamu, Celine was also a medical doctor). He travels a lot, meets a plethora of people, and each of these experiences would contribute to his gloominess. For him, life is a huge struggle and big misery. We could clearly see a misanthropic streak in this character.
Celine has portrayed Bardamu beautifully, which speaks about his dazzling craft. Bardamu is probably an introvert, distrusts the world in general, and his experiences are just adding up to his already formed misanthropy. He witnesses murders, perjuries, lootings, slavery, rejection and Celine has made it clear that Bardamu is a creation who would expose the futility of life.
Robinson is an interesting character. Actually a thug, he is introduced as a fellow soldier of Batdamu, who befriends him. Avaricious and selfish, Robinson treats the whole world with disdain. For him, cunningness is not a vice, but a virtue. He is always after money, and women. Robinson forms numerous liaisons with so many women, and Madelon, his killer, would be one of them. He even participates in the murder of Grandma Henrouille, for money. In the end, everything goes against him, and due to the wickedness of Madelon, he would get killed. Unlike Bardamu, who develops heavy depression after witnessing gruesome spectacles during the war, Robinson doesn’t feel anything. He is so self- centered, and doesn’t mind other’s opinions about him. As Karma is real, Leon Robinson would get killed brutally.
Monsieur Baryton is an interesting character in this novel. He is in charge of a mental asylum. He detests his job and the mentally ill people, which, as a doctor he shouldn’t do. He appears in the beginning as an extremely disturbed person, and eventually falls in love with the Language of English. To him, the language of English appears as the answer for all of his burning spiritual problems. He starts learning it, amply aided by Ferdinand Bardamu, The Books in English opens up new portals of wisdom and he is clearly overjoyed at this development. Finally he would leave France for England, in search of his ‘destiny’.
Madelon is the killer of Robinson. She is a cunning, promiscuous woman, who is exquisitely beautiful. She develops and affair with Ferdinand Bardamu while being the mistress of Leon Robinson. She secretly despises Robinson, which eventually culminates in his brutal murder.
Ferdinand Bardamu begins an affair with this beautiful American woman and she is portrayed as a firm believer of the concepts about manliness. She ditches Bardamu because her concepts about patriotism is not in sync with hers.
She is a wicked woman, whose sole ambition is to kill her mother in law- Grandma Henrouille. In the end she would achieve her objective with the help of Robinson.
A minor but strong character, who develops an affair Bardamu, but later they seperates.
Characters in No Longer Human
The main protagonist and narrator. He is a troubled man, who is not able to reveal his true personality in front of others. He tries to present himself in a jocular way, only to fail all the time. Like Ferdinand Bardamu, the experiences in his life makes him a sour misanthrope. He profoundly distrusts the world, and humanity in general.
For him, people are like marionettes. He has intense feelings for alienation, and is sexually abused by elders during his childhood. Interested in arts, Oba could be suffering from PTSD. He walks the lonely road, which is actually not by his own choice. Excessively paranoid, he gradually develops a paranoid, black and white, negative world view. For him, living in this planet is both weary and dreary. Oba hides some secrets from other fellow humans as he believes they would misjudge and misunderstand him. He begins multiple affairs and double suicide pacts, which speaks at length about his disturbed mental state.
Oba is a loner, who is at odds with the world. He cannot understand other human beings, which could be perceived as one of his disabilities. Given to excessive drinking life has been significantly hard for him. His self- destructive behavior reaches its nadir when his wife would be sexually abused by a casual acquaintance. At this critical juncture, he would lose his mental balance and would be sent to a mental asylum. Disowned, destroyed and despondent, Oba in the end would wallow in profound gloominess.
There are lots of characters in this magnum opus of Dazai. Many of them are morbidly self- destructive and morally moribund. Takeichi is one of them, who is a classmate of Oba. Takeichi is the only one who is well- aware of Oba’s secrets. Horiki is another character, who encourages Yozo to drink profusely and engage with women. He is an artist. Horiki commits an inhuman act, as he would beckon Yozo to watch Yoshiko, Yozo’s wife being sexually assaulted. So we could surmise he has a masochistic streak in him. Yoshiko, Oba’s wife, is portrayed as an innocent woman, who doesn’t know much about the cunning world around her.
Similarities between both Novels
Both novels are profoundly gloomy. Ferdinand Bardamu and Oba Yozo are loners who try their level best to understand the world. But both of them would fail miserably. They both are haunted and bullied by others. Both have a very negative view of the world, which stems from the thoughts of their creators. Both novels speak about human cruelty and cunningness. In a nutshell, they celebrate the philosophy of failure.
If you are into Philosophical pessimism, you shouldn’t miss these two novels. They are written beautifully and elegantly. You might shed a tear or two for the sad plight of these two young men, Bardamu and Oba.