Giles Goat-boy Essay - Critical Essays

John Barth


Giles Goat-Boy: Or, The Revised New Syllabus is a combination of a number of literary forms. It is an allegory in which the twentieth century world is seen as a huge university, the West Campus standing for the “free world” or Western universities and the East Campus representing the Communist bloc. Other participants in the political struggle include Siegfrieder College (Germany), the Bonifascists (Nazis), and the Student-Unionists (local communists). Characters represent John F. Kennedy, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and Milton and Dwight Eisenhower, among many others. There are frequent references to Campus Riots One and Two (World Wars I and II), and everyone fears that a third and apocalyptic campus riot may break out. The WESCAC computer resembles the genie of nuclear power, out of its bottle and uncontrollable.

The novel is also an epic account of how a legendary hero saves his country and his people, and it thus resembles such literary antecedents as Homer’s The Odyssey, Vergil’s The Aeneid, and Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queen (1590 and 1596). Like the heroes of those works, Giles is wounded, endures trials, fights villains, descends to the underworld (in George’s case, the circuits of the giant computer), and finally delivers his people from the rule of a pretender (the false tutor).

An obvious model for Giles is the Greek king Oedipus, who, like Giles, had difficulty walking and committed...

(The entire section is 430 words.)