Critical Overview

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 737

Critics have both lauded and condemned Barthelme for the way he used language and reordered the traditional structure of stories. While some have accused Barthelme of being lazy and careless and of intentionally subverting language, most have written of their delight when encountering his experiments with the written word, appreciating...

(The entire section contains 737 words.)

Unlock This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this The Indian Uprising study guide. You'll get access to all of the The Indian Uprising content, as well as access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

  • Summary
  • Themes
  • Characters
  • Critical Essays
  • Analysis
  • Teaching Guide
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Critics have both lauded and condemned Barthelme for the way he used language and reordered the traditional structure of stories. While some have accused Barthelme of being lazy and careless and of intentionally subverting language, most have written of their delight when encountering his experiments with the written word, appreciating the challenge that exists within a Barthelme story.

Soon after Barthelme’s death in 1989, John Barth wrote an appreciation of the author in the New York Times Book Review, comparing him with another short-story writer, Raymond Carver. Barth wrote that Barthelme shared with Carver ‘‘an axis of rigorous literary craftsmanship, a preoccupation with the particulars of, shall we say, post-Eisenhower American life, and a late-modern conviction, felt to the bone, that less is more.’’ According to Barth, Barthelme was ‘‘the thinking man’s—and woman’s—Minimalist,’’ a proponent of a style of art and music originating in the 1960s that emphasized simplicity and straightforwardness. Francis Gillen, writing in Twentieth Century Literature, credits Barthelme for alerting modern man to the presence of a world abundant in many things that are, nonetheless, devoid of value and meaning. Gillen praises the author for exploring the ‘‘full impact of mass media pop culture on the consciousness of the individual who is so bombarded by canned happenings . . . that he can no longer distinguish the self from the surroundings.’’

‘‘The Indian Uprising’’ has generally received high marks from most critics. Neil Schmitz, for example, writing in the Minnesota Review, calls ‘‘The Indian Uprising’’ a ‘‘brilliantly conceived collage.’’ Schmitz praises Barthelme’s use of nonlinear narrative as well as everyday objects to develop satire in his work. He notes that Barthelme has, ‘‘with the insane coolness of a TV commentator,’’ created a ‘‘Vietnamized world lurching toward an apocalypse by juxtaposing in quick flashes all its profuse objects, events and language.’’ Maclin Bocock calls Barthelme ‘‘an original and important writer’’ in fiction international. He is particularly interested in Barthelme’s treatment of the malefemale relationship in his work, arguing that much of Barthelme’s writing is concerned with ‘‘the failure of a man to achieve a satisfactory and lasting relationship with a woman.’’ This theme is present in ‘‘The Indian Uprising,’’ Bocock notes, even though it is ‘‘concealed by a cover of complicated language.’’ The story, he asserts, is ‘‘an extended metaphor of war,’’ meant to represent the painful breakup between the narrator and his girlfriend, Sylvia. The Comanches in the story therefore signify the words Sylvia uses to attack him; by the end of the story, the narrator is beaten down, and his ‘‘emasculation . . . is complete.’’ According to Bocock, the hero as a failed lover is common theme in Barthelme’s fiction.

Some critics do not take pleasure in Barthelme’s experimental prose, however. While John W. Aldridge generally praises Barthelme’s Unspeakable Practices, Unnatural Acts in the Atlantic Monthly, he also has complaints about a few of the stories in it. Some of them, he argues, ‘‘strike one as exercises in free association and automatic writing or as descriptions of bad dreams jotted down . . . for the benefit of one’s analyst.’’ Walter Sullivan is not impressed by Barthelme’s unique style, claiming in the Sewanee Review that the author is ‘‘apparently devoid of ideas.’’ This has forced Barthelme, he asserts, to use clichés and to write down ‘‘whatever ridiculous things occur to him.’’

Webster Schott agrees with Aldridge that Barthelme’s writing is dreamlike, but he considers this a positive feature. Commenting in Book WorldThe Washington Post, Schott finds Barthelme to be ‘‘one of the half dozen truly interesting American writers’’ of the time as well as ‘‘original’’ and a ‘‘genuine artist.’’ But he also acknowledges that the author’s work can be ‘‘tedious, inflated, repetitious, and a bit depressing.’’ Other critics have expressed similarly contradictory feelings about Barthelme’s work. For example, Earl Shorris, reviewing Barthelme’s 1972 short story collection Sadness for Harper’s, enjoys the uniqueness of the author’s writing but is also pained by the impact his words and sentences can have. According to Shorris, Barthelme has ‘‘located the square on which we are cowering, and he has assembled the comedy of our activities on that square, our lives, into an instrument of discomfort.’’ On the other hand, he praises Barthelme for being able to ‘‘turn the most ordinary events into beautiful language; he is often a poet; he makes sculptures of words; art is alchemy.’’

Illustration of PDF document

Download The Indian Uprising Study Guide

Subscribe Now
Next

Essays and Criticism