Form and Content
In Arnold Dobrin’s I Am a Stranger on the Earth: The Story of Vincent van Gogh, the details of the artist’s life are chronologically presented in seven chapters and six self-portraits. The text is a meticulous account of the artist’s story, from his birth to his suicide with a pistol in a farmyard near Paris. The author recounts van Gogh’s frantic efforts to gain understanding from his parents and neighbors and his complete inability to conform to their standards. What was important to them was a matter of complete indifference to van Gogh. He wanted to serve, to give, and to show people the beauty of the world, but only his brother Theo understood him.
Van Gogh’s parents were bitterly disappointed that their son was stubborn and willful, given to extremes of happiness and misery. They sent him away to school at the age of eleven in the hope that he would become a gentleman. Van Gogh found books on philosophy and religion more to his taste than association with his schoolmates. He adopted inflexible moral views and idolized the lives of peasants. At sixteen, he had learned to write well and was familiar with European literature, but he was not the middle-class son that Pastor van Gogh wanted him to be.
At seventeen, van Gogh went to The Hague to work in his uncle’s art gallery. When he was transferred successively to the firm’s London and Paris branches, how-ever, he did not get along well with the other employees or with the customers. When he told his employers that he considered it a sin to make money by selling art, he was fired.
Teaching French in two English boys’ schools proved no more successful. Long walks in London’s East End persuaded van Gogh that he should devote his life to working with the poor and doing God’s work. After a short period of training and another as a lay...
(The entire section is 755 words.)