B. Traven Essay - Critical Essays

Traven, B. (Vol. 11)


Traven, B. 1890–1969

Traven was an American-born short story writer, novelist, and screenwriter. He wrote in German and translated his own work into English, a method which accounts for the sometimes fragmentary and incorrect use of English in his fiction. Traven was deliberately vague about his background; however, since his death some facts have emerged. He lived in Mexico for most of his life and that country serves as the setting for most of his fiction. Because his recurring theme is the exploitation and degradation of the working classes, Traven has been linked with Marxist, socialist, and anarchist doctrines. He avoids dogmatism, however, espousing a form of humanism in the tradition of Thoreau. (See also CLC, Vol. 8, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 19-20; obituary, Vols. 25-28, rev. ed.; Contemporary Authors Permanent Series, Vol. 2.)

Alan Cheuse

Traven's spare but resonant narration, which harks back to the old wisdom tales of Indian-American mythology, has much in common as well with that alienated (Brecht called it "distanced") mode of presentation which we have come to associate with technologically produced works of cinematic art.

"The Kidnapped Saint" will give readers new to the Traven canon ample opportunity to discover this distinctive style at its best. The eight stories in the collection will in fact be new to all but the most intrepid Traven followers (and some will be new even to them). (p. 34)

In addition to these tales, with their remarkable fusion of deep empathy and the self-conscious distance that always...

(The entire section is 301 words.)

Michael L. Baumann

[Most] Traven scholars now agree: that Traven had been an itinerant actor and anarchist writer by the name of Ret Marut in pre-World War I Germany….

[Both] circumstantial and internal, or textual, evidence seems to confirm the identity of the two men: Ret Marut disappeared from Germany in the early 1920s (he probably left Europe in 1922 and landed in Mexico toward the end of that year); B. Traven's stories began to appear in German magazines early in 1925, their manuscripts having been sent to Germany from Mexico; Traven's novels, the manuscripts of which were likewise sent to Traven's German publishers from Mexico, started coming out in April 1926; Traven clearly expresses ideas in his novels...

(The entire section is 2428 words.)

Michael L. Baumann

[Land des Frühlings (Land of Spring)] is a Traven source book: here we find, in the form of theory, argument, and statements of fact, Traven's principal ideas, as well as material similar to that which went into his novels and stories. Here we find Traven's fierce indignation, his anger at the inequities of a world he did not make, and his intense involvement in the fate of the underdog. Here we meet Traven the idealist and impatient philosophical anarchist, the observer of nature, the humorist, the lyrical and sentimental 19th-century Romantic, and the 20th-century ironist. And we get to know a side of the man that Traven deliberately distorts in his novels and denied vis-à-vis the biography hounds who came...

(The entire section is 925 words.)

John M. Reilly

The narrator's repudiation of the popular formula for success, which he repeats at length throughout [The Death Ship], links his tale with the specific demystification of many novels that are anti-bourgeois and symptomatic of the authors' estrangement from prevailing cultural ideals. On the other hand the efforts to set us straight about the real work of sailors leads to the radical core of this story of the proletarian at sea.

Presenting himself as homeless and stateless the narrator, thus, represents the common man contending with the bureaucracy of the modern nation, but cast back upon his own individual resources he, more importantly, epitomizes the proletarian in a modern, industrial...

(The entire section is 1007 words.)