Original Research

E.L. Doctorow’s fictional autobiography: World’s Fair (1985) as a carnivalesque Bildungsroman

Philip van der Merwe, Ian Bekker
Literator | Vol 36, No 2 | a1181 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/lit.v36i2.1181 | © 2015 Philip van der Merwe, Ian Bekker | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 28 January 2015 | Published: 26 June 2015

About the author(s)

Philip van der Merwe, School of Languages, Subject Group: German and Subject Group: English, North-West University, Potchefstroom Campus, South Africa
Ian Bekker, School of Languages, Subject Group: German and Subject Group: English, North-West University, Potchefstroom Campus, South Africa


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Abstract

In World’s Fair (1985) E.L. (Edgar Lawrence) Doctorow (1931–) artistically transforms autobiographical and historical facts and memories of the actual world of his childhood into a Bildungsroman. Doctorow was in his fifties when he wrote this novel, which is widely regarded as more autobiographic than his other Bildungsromane, namely The Book of Daniel (1971), Loon Lake (1980) and Billy Bathgate (1989). This fictionalisation takes place through the use of a retrospective narrator who depicts the memories of his formative experiences as a nine-year-old boy. The novel is marked by a striking structural feature, namely that positive and sombre or serious events alternate. The question therefore arises: Why does Doctorow construct his childhood memoir in this manner? In brief, the answer is that the narrator’s Bildung depends on a carnivalesque dialectic of dangerous and/or threatening events and the relief and/or repair of these same events. This article therefore attempts to make sense of World’s Fair in terms of selected aspects of M.M. Bakhtin’s notion of ‘carnival’. It shows a clear link between, on the one hand, this novel’s status as a Bildungsroman along with the personal growth of the narrator and central character and, on the other hand, a carnivalesque dialectic of seriousness and amelioration. It thus shows that the main theme of the book is, in fact, the reliance of growth on this dialectic. The article begins with a brief analysis of the novel in terms of its semi-autobiographic character and then provides an equally brief overview of Bakhtin’s (1984, 1985) notion of carnival. The main body of the text provides examples from the novel and thus evidence for the above-mentioned dialectic.

E.L. Doctorow se fiktiewe outobiografie: World’s Fair (1985), as ’n karnavaleske Bildungsroman. In World’s Fair (1985) omvorm E.L. (Edgar Lawrence) Doctorow (1931–) outobiografiese en geskiedkundige feite en herinneringe van die werklike wêreld van sy kindertyd op ‘n artistieke wyse in ’n Bildungsroman. Doctorow was in sy vyftigs toe hy hierdie roman geskryf het, wat oor die algemeen as meer outobiografies beskou word as sy ander Bildungsromane, naamlik The Book of Daniel (1971), Loon Lake (1980) en Billy Bathgate (1989). Hierdie fiksionalisering vind plaas deur ’n retrospektiewe verteller wat sy herinneringe aan sy lewensvormende ervaringe as ’n negejarige seun skilder. ’n Opvallende strukturele eienskap kenmerk hierdie roman, naamlik dat positiewe en somber of ernstige gebeurtenisse mekaar afwissel. Die vraag ontstaan dus: Waarom konstrueer Doctorow die memoir van sy kindertyd op hierdie wyse? Die antwoord is kortliks dat die verteller, Edgar Altschuler, se Bildung op ’n karnevalistiese dialektiek van gevaarlike en/of bedreigende gebeurtenisse en die verligting en/of herstel van dieselfde gebeurtenisse berus. Die doel van hierdie artikel is om World’s Fair in terme van geselekteerde aspekte van M.M. Bakhtin se idee van ‘karnaval’ te verstaan. Dit toon aan dat daar ʼn duidelike verband bestaan tussen, aan die een kant, die roman se posisie as ʼn Bildungroman tesame met die persoonlike ontwikkeling van die verteller en die sentrale karakter en, aan die ander kant, die karnavaleske dialektiek van erns en verbetering. Persoonlike groei wat op hierdie dialektiek gebaseer is, is dus die sentrale tema van hierdie boek. Die artikel begin met ʼn kort ontleding van die semi-outobiografiese aard van die roman en verskaf dan ʼn ewe kort oorsig van Bakhtin (1984, 1985) se konsep ‘karnaval’. Die hoofdeel van die artikel bestaan uit voorbeelde en daarmee bewyse van bogenoemde dialektiek.


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