Contemporary Black Humor Criticism: Major Authors - Essay

Elaine B. Safer (essay date 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Safer, Elaine B. “The Absurd Quest and Black Humor in Ken Kesey's Sometimes a Great Notion.” In The Contemporary American Comic Epic: The Novels of Barth, Pynchon, Gaddis, and Kesey, pp. 138-55. Detroit, Mich: Wayne State University Press, 1988.

[In the following essay, Safer characterizes Kesey's Sometimes a Great Notion as a work of epic vision and scope that derives its most poignant power from elements of black humor.]

Sometimes a Great Notion—more so than the novels of John Barth, Thomas Pynchon, and William Gaddis—focuses on traditional heroic subjects: the conflict between two brothers, the Oedipal bind, and the reaction to...

(The entire section is 8671 words.)

Daniel Green (essay date summer 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Green, Daniel. “A World Worth Laughing At: Catch-22 and the Humor of Black Humor.” Studies in the Novel 27, no. 2 (summer 1995): 186-95.

[In the following essay, Green examines the lighter aspects of Heller's Catch-22, contending that because critics frequently focus on darker themes in black humor fiction, the comic aspects of these works are often neglected.]

One can't help but note that in the commentary about the fiction conventionally identified with the mode of “black humor” there is much discussion of what makes such fiction black, but little of its humor. The most famous expression of this tendency occurs in probably the most...

(The entire section is 4850 words.)

Robert M. Greenberg (essay date winter 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Greenberg, Robert M. “Transgression in the Fiction of Philip Roth.” Twentieth Century Literature 43, no. 4 (winter 1997): 487-506.

[In the following essay, Greenberg examines the theme of transgression in Philip Roth's work, contending that the author's techniques are uniquely reflective of his relationship with mainstream American media and literary activity.]

In The Anatomy Lesson (1983) Philip Roth provides an explanation for Nathan Zuckerman's involvement with transgression as a man and a writer. Roth describes first-generation immigrant fathers as “pioneering Jewish fathers bursting with taboos” who produce second-generation sons “boiling...

(The entire section is 8402 words.)

Will Kaufman (essay date 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Kaufman, Will. “Kurt Vonnegut: ‘I Had to Laugh Like Hell.’” In The Comedian as Confidence Man: Studies in Irony Fatigue, pp. 147-86. Detroit, Mich.: Wayne State University Press, 1997.

[In the following essay, Kaufman contends that the divide between Kurt Vonnegut's comic persona and his cultural aims is obvious in many of his works, including Slapstick, Mother Night, and Cat's Cradle.]

Who can have failed to notice a pattern emerging among those confronting the ethical problems of their own ironic practices—especially those for whom the practice becomes the identity? We have seen Herman Melville troubling over the more sinister implications of...

(The entire section is 17983 words.)

Gene A. Plunka (essay date 2002)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Plunka, Gene A. “Six Degrees of Separation.” In The Black Comedy of John Guare, pp. 186-202. Newark, Del: University of Delaware Press, 2002.

[In the following essay, Plunka provides a detailed analysis of Guare's Six Degrees of Separation, lauding it as one of the most effective examples of black comedy.]

Six Degrees of Separation marks Guare's finest theatrical achievement, in which the idea of a spiritually dysfunctional society in need of viable connections with self and others is best illustrated through farce and black comedy. Guare wrote the play relatively quickly in 1989 with the intent of staging it at Lincoln Center. He...

(The entire section is 8783 words.)