The Blood of the Lamb Critical Context
by Peter De Vries

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Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

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Many critics regard The Blood of the Lamb, published midway in De Vries’s career, as his finest as well as his most serious novel. Basically a comic novelist, De Vries has often dealt with religious issues in a circumspect manner, but here he allows his seriousness of purpose to become more apparent. He employs a confessional format as a way of placing his narrator in a grotesque, bewildering world in which his characters have little control over events. His response to that world has been comic, as if to say that our only defense is to laugh at the tragic absurdity or grotesqueness of life. This tragicomic note is best illustrated by the birthday party in the hospital for the children suffering from leukemia. There is nothing more pathetic than the death of a child, and De Vries registers that pathos in the cynicism of Stein and the impulsive anger of Wanderhope, who flings his daughter’s birthday cake at the statue of Christ.

In The Blood of the Lamb, De Vries employs his comic genius to serious purpose in confronting the contemporary meaning of suffering. If the tone of the novel seems mixed, that is intentional, since the grotesque is “a blend of the tragic and the comic.” De Vries does not escape into nihilism in his rejection of traditional religious views but affirms, in his narrator’s credo, a clear set of humanistic values. In refusing to hold God responsible for the death of his daughter, Wanderhope dignifies himself in his suffering and affirms a compassionate Deity, worthy of worship, who shares the burden of human sorrow.