Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Gombrowicz has been a difficult writer to assimilate into Western literature. When his novel first appeared in Polish in 1937, it created a sensation. Critics quickly recognized that he was writing something quite new. He was attacking Polish Romanticism of the nineteenth century, in which the figure of the great hero, the great poet, was predominant. He was most skeptical of these noble qualities and believed that much of Polish Romanticism fostered illusions about human nature. How far had the human race really progressed? Written on the eve of World War II, this novel seems particularly prophetic. He knew that the so-called great philosophy and literature had made virtually no difference in the way people lived their lives or in the way the world was organized. By and large, people are unprepared to face this truth about themselves and their world, and Gombrowicz has been accused of asserting a cynical, nihilistic point of view.

Gombrowicz once said that he was not a political writer. It is true that his work does not deal explicitly with politics, and the novelist did not then take an active role in political matters. He was traveling outside Poland in 1939, when World War II began, and he never returned to his native land. Except for a brief period of liberalization from 1956 to 1957, when most of his work was published in Poland, he has been a proscribed writer there. The Communist government has rightly viewed Gombrowicz’s writing as subversive...

(The entire section is 501 words.)