Study Guide

Crash

by J. G. Ballard

Crash Essay - Critical Essays

Analysis

Crash has received high praise from critics and is considered to be one of Ballard’s best novels. The characters have disturbing psychological problems that seem real. Vaughan, an obsessed scientist, brings the narrator under his influence. He slowly changes the narrator’s character until he shares Vaughan’s obsession with car crashes. The novel presents a fascinating portrayal of sexual obsession combined with hideous abuses of technology.

One of the strongest aspects of the novel is Ballard’s powerful characterization. Each character in Crash, from the narrator to Robert Vaughan to Helen Remington, has a unique and fascinating personality, yet all are united by the bond of obsession and pain. The narrator’s friendship with and admiration of Vaughan seem strange at first, as do his sexual fantasies connected with car crashes. As he writes about Vaughan and describes how he became involved with the scientist, however, readers can understand how the narrator could be changed by Vaughan.

Another fascinating aspect of the narrator’s character is that he is named James Ballard. The connection of author and narrator creates interesting associations; readers might wonder what is fictional and what may be reality. Ballard’s careful blending of fiction and reality also can be seen in his decision to make Elizabeth Taylor, a prominent actress, the focus of Vaughan’s obsession.

At first, it might seem unbelievable that Vaughan could derive sexual pleasure from car crashes or that he could fantasize of dying in an accident with Taylor. When one considers the strange motivations expressed by serial killers, assassins, and terrorists, however, Vaughan and his obsession do not seem so unrealistic. In fact, Vaughan is a chilling character who might well exist in the real world.

Another fascinating aspect of Crash is the use of technology. Ballard does not simply tell the story of a man obsessed with an actress. Instead, he creates a terrifying vision of obsession mixing with technology and eventually leading to the death of innocent people. Ballard captures the horrifying consequences of car accidents and speculates on the terrifying possibility that there may people who want to create car crashes for their own pleasure. The technology of the automobile, which seems beneficial on the surface, is easily turned into an instrument of mass destruction.