How can deconstructive criticism be applied to the novel, The Comedians  by Graham Greene?

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durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In The Comedians by Graham Greene, Greene allows the reader to draw his or her own conclusions about the depth of the characters and how they relate to one another. Deconstructive criticism explores the possible anomalies that appear in the text and the interpretations that either extend or limit the reader's understanding. The decisions which are made and the conflicts which are uncovered reveal that there are various ways to understand the characters as they exist in a seemingly contradictory environment.   

The Comedians is intentionally political but, as always with Greene, it is essentially Catholic. This then introduces the first contradiction - religion and politics. Political issues surrounding Haiti in the 1960s under the rule of "Papa Doc" Duvalier are exposed and, at the same time, the fight between good and evil, moral right and wrong, are discussed in this less than ideal setting. The reader can either remain passive and uncommitted like the characters or can actually take a stand: 

Catholics and communists have committed great crimes, but at least they have not stood aside, like an established society, and been indifferent.

The reader is in a position to interpret the above quote in a number of ways; as a criticism of "established society"; that Catholics and Communists, ironically, have some intrinsic common ground or that, in some instances, the end justifies the means here"great crimes" become part of every day existence. 

Whilst Greene uses Haiti as the basis for his exposure of man's ability to usurp authority and commit heinous deeds, the reader needs to understand that it could apply to other geographical settings and even time periods. Using a real situation compels the reader to take the matter more seriously and not to suffer the same level of indifference. Tormented characters and disillusionment dominate The Comedians and the characters' inability to overcome their own self-inflicted internal conflicts. 

Greene uses key words, understood in a certain context and allows the reader to interpret them in their new context. When Brown refers to God as "a practical joker," he exposes the ineptitude of the characters in resolving their own conflict and, of course, in terms of "the bigger picture."

A matter for the reader to contemplate would be the contradictory reference to suicide:

However great a man’s fear of life, suicide remains the courageous act, the clear-headed act of a mathematician.

It is unlikely that most people would have seen suicide described this way. However, taken out of its context - that of the end of a human life - it may make sense when faced with the thought that "to live will be more miserable than to die." The fact that anyone contemplating suicide is usually not capable of rational thought at that moment is defied and wholly ignored by this comment, making it a good example of the application of deconstructive criticism.