Critical Context (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series)

Donleavy had great difficulty getting The Ginger Man published, and when it first appeared, it was condemned by some as obscene and blasphemous. The novel now seems relatively tame in its treatment of sex, but its reputation as a dirty book is understandable in an era which also saw Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita (1955) as pornographic. This reputation helped establish The Ginger Man as a cult classic; it was very popular among college-age readers for a generation or more primarily because of Sebastian’s antiestablishment behavior. It is also one of the first notable examples of the American black humor so prominent in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Similarities to Sebastian can be seen in the protagonists of many such novels, especially Randle Patrick McMurphy in Ken Kesey’s One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1962).

The Ginger Man fits into other literary traditions as well. The influence of the stream of consciousness and poetic style of James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) is obvious; Sebastian can be seen as a more perverse version of Joyce’s Buck Mulligan. A similar influence is the absurdist vision of the universe expressed by another Irish writer, Samuel Beckett. The emphasis on sexual relations recalls the work of Henry Miller. The rambling, episodic structure is in the tradition of such English novelists as Henry Fielding, Laurence Sterne, and William Makepeace Thackeray. Sebastian resembles a number...

(The entire section is 418 words.)