A great mix to produce humor (term paper)

There are a series of elements that in the beginning of This is the way the world ends by James Morrow, as in any other novel, give us a some information before starting to read the text of the novel itself. In the case of the suggested text it is, obviously, the title, but also the inscription, the acknowledgments, the table of contents and a poem right before starts the text of the novel.

It seems logical to start by commenting on the title: This is the way the worlds ends. Anyone that reads a title like this will think that is going to face a dramatic or apocalyptic novel, perhaps with some epic story inserted, perhaps with characters who face the adversities with stoicism. In summary: the reader when reading this title expects to find something similar to Mecansocrit del segon origen by Manuel de Pedrolo, for example.

However, immediately remains clear that the text has a great dose of humor. This breack our expectations as readers. And besides breaking our expectations, if we are experimented readers and with literary knowledge, we will receive a second surprise: James Morrow spins the title out a work by T. S. Eliot called The Hollow Men, which ends as follow:

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

This fact open the door to a multiplicity of resources now the author can use playing with our expectations:he can satirize the poem by T. S. Eliot, can do a counterpoint, can complete it, etc. In any case, it will be a strange coincidence that he used as title a verse by T. S. Eliot and there was not any type of connection between one work and another. In this case, the most obvious connection is thematic: they both talk about the war in a form or another.

After the title, the following that finds the reader is the inscription: «For my daughter Kathy». It does not provide us as readers so much information for the moment, but this as any other inscription helps us start knowing the implied author. The section called «Aknowledgements» insists in this process of formation in reader’s mind of the implied author. We can firstly think that this section does not have anything to do with the implied author but with the author itself, we can think that is a kind of objective texts, simply a list of influences. But it’s not true: the author itself makes an election, list who want to list an exclude everyone else: for example, he does not cite T. S. Eliot.

Then reader found the table of contents, where we have to stop because there are some surprising things. The dictionary of the Institut d’Estudis Catalans definite prologue as «Introduction to a work that usually reviews the merits, the value, o also to place it in the middle of a context and some determinate circumstances.» So usually prologue readers to the work itself, not to the story itself or to the plot itself. James Morrow is playing here with conventions about titles and divisions of literary works; if usually we expect some references to the work itself in the prologue, he starts the story and calls «prologue» to this beginning, turning the divisions itself in a part of a literary play. Something similar happens with the «Epilogue» section. He also plays in a similar way with another division used in literature, which is entr’acte, usually located between two acts in literary plays and here located in the middle of a novel, between book one and book two. Also we have to retain the names of this last parts I’ve mentioned, «Those who favor fire» and «For destruction ice is also great».

We have to retain this data in our minds because it is connected with the next thing that a reader receives, also another more information previous to the text itself: a poem by Robert Frost called Fire and ice. This is obviously the first definitive clue the author give us to tell us this is not a dramatic story. It’s a resource for desdramatization. And author uses two verses borrowed from this poem to entitle book one and book two.

Then starts the singular prologue o this curios story, that deals with Nostradamus and the end of the world. The action starts with the description of the main character in this prologue, which is Nostradamus, and then tells us a story about this prophet and his efforts to narrate how the world ends. To do that, the author uses sometime sarcasm (even explicitly the word «sarcasm» is used) or let his characters do; anachronisms, sought protection in the fact that the main character can foresee the future; and also uses very often irony: «My readers expect a full complement of nonsense» my be a good example of how this irony is used. And this example is also connected with the fact that Morrow often, also here, deals with religion and / or superstition.

Also in the prologue the reader can find a lot ob examples of different ways of speaking: direct speech, free direct speech, and free indirect speech are often used. Let’s see some examples:

As an example of direct speech:

‘No,’ I replied, ‘I did not think so’, he confessed.

As an example of free direct speech:

“That was a sarcasm. The coming thing. Mirable dictu, what a reversal Bonaparte will suffer once he reaches Moscow!”

When the prologue ends, reader found the book one, entiteled Those Who Favor Fire, whose setting implies contrasted with the Prologue’s one a foreshadow. It deals with nuclear armament and where there are some references to well-known popular artists like George Paxton and references to popular trade marks of big corporations like Honda, used all this as a desdramatization strategy.

Now we know there had been a foreshadow if we observe again the table of contents we see that the next division is again setted in 16th century, while Book one is sitted in 20th century. Nevertheless Book Two is again setted in 20th century so, although there is no continuation in the proposed excerpt, we can say that the author is inserting alternatively narrations setted in 20th and in 16th century.

To sum up, all the strategies adopted by the author permit him to deal with a dramatic theme as is nuclear armament and wars from humor and irony, mixing elements of religion (often satirizing it) and history (by introducing some symbols, for example; by citing some well-known figures like Hitler) and playing with their traditions and with the tradition of literature itself. This mix of elements produces greatly the humorous effect that the author was searching.


James Morrow. Wikipedia contributors. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia [on line] <http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=James_Morrow&oldid=205316097>. 2008.
George Paxton. Wikipedia contributors. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia [on line] <http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=George_Paxton&oldid=221147043>. 2008.
The Hollow Men. Wikipedia contributors. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia [on line] <http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=The_Hollow_Men&oldid=221142579>. 2008.