Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Relationships of Kosinski’s Archetypal Conclusions (Annotation G2-6/Goddard)

Chronicling a young boy’s life in rural-central Poland during World War II, Jerzy Kosinski’s unnamed narrator in The Painted Bird experiences one atrocity after another each one becoming more horrifying than the last. His treatment by peasants is a fate, in many ways, worse than the gas chambers of the Nazi concentration camps. In Kosinski’s 1976 preface, he alludes to the motivation behind his book: “present archetypal aspects of the individual relationship to society. Man would be portrayed in his most vulnerable state, as a child, and society in its most deadly form, in a state of war,” (Kosinski xii). The narrator begins as a dark-skinned six-year-old boy at the beginning of Nazi occupation of the region. If Kosinski’s aim to portray relationship between the child and society is the text, the relationship between the vulnerable and the brutal within the narrator’s character is sub textual.
A child’s vulnerability surfaces throughout the novel, and most especially in Chapter 11 when a local priest saves him, he comes to live with Garbos, a peasant farmer. Garbos shows no compassion to the young man, and in fact torments him day and night. In a particular bout of torture, Garbos hung the little boy in a room with Judas, the farmer’s dog who was just out of reach of the boy. Had the boy lost his handholds on the hooks, the dog awaited eagerly to tear him to shreds. In these moments, he uses prayers for days of indulgence to pass the time. “Time went by and my prayers multiplied. Thousands of days of indulgence streaked through the thatched roof toward heaven” (Kosinski 132). The absolute brutality of his situation overlaid on the prayers taught to him by the priest exaggerates his role as the tormented. The boy prays, holds belief in God the father, God the son, and makes numerous trips to the church mentioning iconography there: the holy water, the cross, and the virgin. These manifestations make sense to the narrator during his time with Garbos and the dog Judas.
The shift in vulnerability and brutality in the narrator happens in chapter 18. Soldiers of the Red Army, Gavrila and Mitka, replace the priest of chapter 11. Lenin replaces religious iconography of God the Father and God the Son and Stalin, the cross becomes the assault rifle. The tormented becomes the tormentor. Our narrator has left lodgings of peasants, and Red Army soldiers and has made his way to an orphanage by chapter 18. In the orphanage, he meets The Silent One. The two boys become tormentors after the narrator has taken a beating by a merchant farmer in the market, and the two boys set about for revenge. They get revenge by oiling a railroad switch and later by derailing the train, which carries the peasant merchants to market, killing most of them. In this one act, an act of utter hostility the narrator ceases to be man at his most vulnerable state and joins society in a state of war.
The relationship between child and society can only be a fragile and ultimately ephemeral one. Eventually the child becomes an adult, perpetuating society.
Kosinski, Jerzy. The Painted Bird. New York: Grove Press, 1995

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