Critical Context

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 164

Lagerkvist’s first published novel, The Dwarf was both a commercial and a critical success. It remains, along with Barabbas (1950; English translation, 1951), published a year before he received the Nobel Prize for Literature, the best-known work of the best-known Swedish novelist. In its recognition of the power of evil, The Dwarf is as much a product of the continuing preoccupations of its author as it is of the somber Zeitgeist of World War II.

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Lagerkvist has been discussed as an heir to Fyodor Dostoevski and Franz Kafka and within the context of European existentialism, though he remained aloof from organized Continental movements. His was a religious sensibility, not merely in novels such as Barabbas, Sibyllan (1956; The Sybyl, 1958), Ahasverus dod (1960; The Death of Ahasuerus, 1962), and Det heliga landet (1964; The Holy Land, 1966) that recycle biblical texts. The Dwarf explores the frailties of individual consciousness in a world bereft of the consolations of the absolute. A powerful narrative of skeptical spirituality, The Dwarf is no small achievement.

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