Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*Shanghai

*Shanghai. Port city at the mouth of the Yangtze River that was—and still is—the most populous city of China, housing an estimated three million people in 1927, thirty-five thousand of them foreigners. Shanghai then was also uniquely international, made so by European imperialism. Europeans in China enjoyed extraterritorial rights and were beyond the jurisdiction of Chinese law. Hence, although Shanghai was a Chinese city, it was actually divided into three administrative and juridical sectors: the Chinese sector, the British sector (known as the “international settlement”), and the French sector (or “concession”). In each sector, Chinese inhabitants were in the majority. Shanghai in 1927 was a divided city somewhat like Berlin, Germany, following World War II.

Although Malraux had lived in Asia, it is doubtful that he knew Shanghai firsthand in 1927; his descriptions therefore resemble a newsreel. More important, because of Shanghai’s international nature, Malraux could assemble a multinational cast for his epic—French, Germans, Russians, Chinese, and mixed-race characters. Malraux’s Shanghai can thus be seen as a political microcosm of his contemporary world during an existentialist moment of history when the communist revolution was challenging capitalist imperialism as a global ideology.

Hotel room

Hotel room. Setting of the opening scene, in which Ch’en, a Chinese communist leader, assassinates an arms dealer. Malraux transforms this room into a metaphoric place with metaphysical significance. Beginning here, Malraux divides his novel’s places (also characters, actions, ideas) into two...

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Man's Fate Literary Techniques

Malraux's robust, terse style is peppered with newspaper headlines and radio broadcasts that heighten the story's dramatic impact and help to...

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Man's Fate Social Concerns

Malraux's recreation of Chiang Kaishek's bloody break with the Communists places the reader in the throes of social revolution. As Malraux...

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Man's Fate Literary Precedents

Because his novels focus on key sociopolitical events that have contributed substantially toward the creation of the Modern Era, Malraux was,...

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Man's Fate Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Boak, Denis. “La Condition humaine.” In André Malraux. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1968. A judicious consideration of the novel within the perspective of Malraux’s development as a writer. Emphasizes its metaphysical rather than political aspects. Detailed consideration of imagery and characterization.

Chua, Cheng Lok. “The International Theme in André Malraux’s Asian Novels.” Modern Language Quarterly 39, no. 2 (June, 1978): 169-182. An Asian’s view of Malraux’s Asian novels, especially Man’s Fate. Discusses Malraux’s cross-fertilization of the European values of individualism and will with Asian values of communal identity and harmony, and his use of irony in plot to create tragic protagonists.

Frohock, W. M. André Malraux and the Tragic Imagination. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1952. Classic consideration of Malraux’s fictional canon. The chapter on Man’s Fate analyzes Malraux’s style, the rhythm and pattern of the novel’s action, its characterization, and the thematic and aesthetic effects of the characters’ fates.

Hiddleston, J. A. Malraux: La Condition humaine. London: Edward Arnold, 1973. Useful but somewhat critical of Malraux. Focuses on Malraux’s concern with the individual’s ability to question the world, which leads to his characters’ recurrent dilemma of whether to be or to do. Organized into two sections, the first dealing with characters and themes, the second with thought and form. Quite brief.

Leefmans, Bert M.-P. “Malraux and Tragedy: The Structure of La Condition humaine.” Romanic Review 44, no. 3 (October, 1953): 208-214. Pioneering analysis of the formal structure of Man’s Fate. Shows the seven parts of the novel’s action conforming to the classic rise and fall of tragedy, developing in the equally classic pattern of purpose, passion, and perception.