Jerzy Kosinski Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

In The Painted Bird, what symbolism exists in the bird?

How does the metaphor of flying function in Jerzy Kosinski’s fiction generally?

How does the novel Steps reflect the uncertainties brought about by Kosinski’s participation in both communist and free societies?

How does the theme of language function in Being There?

What advice concerning television watching does Kosinski incorporate in Being There?

What, according to Kosinski, is the value of nonconformity, and what are its practicable limits?

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

ph_0111207094-Kosinski.jpg Jerzy Kosinski. Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Jerzy Kosinski was a professional sociologist, educated in Poland and the Soviet Union. His first two books in English were studies of collectivized life in Soviet Russia, The Future Is Ours, Comrade (1960) and No Third Path (1962), both published under the pen name Joseph Novak. Kosinski discussed some of his critical views in two short booklets, Notes of the Author on “The Painted Bird” (1965) and The Art of the Self: Essays à Propos “Steps” (1968).


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Jerzy Kosinski is among that small group of serious, difficult, absolutely uncompromising writers who attained critical acclaim and, at the same time, great popular success; his novels regularly appeared on best-seller lists and won such prizes as the National Book Award (1969) and the French Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger (best foreign book, 1966). His first, most popular, and probably best, novel, The Painted Bird, about a child growing up through sheer determination in a very hostile world, is one of those works, such as Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719) or Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), that immediately touch some basic part of every reader. His later novels expressed contemporary experiences so directly that they seem to have been written out of the day’s headlines. The charges of excessive violence and sensationalism are sometimes directed against Kosinski’s work, but he argued cogently that life, no matter how much people have numbed themselves to it, is violent and sensational, and it is better to face the implications of those realities than to run and hide from them. In fact, it is only in experiencing life fully that one can extract value from it. His existential theme is that only when one lives conscious of the knowledge of one’s coming death is one fully alive. Kosinski’s reputation will continue to grow as critics and thoughtful readers better understand his intentions.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Bruss, Paul. Victims: Textual Strategies in Recent American Fiction. Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1981. Explores the strategies of three writers, including Kosinski, and their alliance with the idealist tradition. Examines Kosinski’s early fiction with regard to his use of language, as well as his novels Steps, Cockpit, and Blind Date. A selected bibliography of primary and secondary sources is provided.

Everman, Welch D. Jerzy Kosinski: The Literature of Violation. San Bernardino, Calif.: Borgo Press, 1991.

Fein, Richard J. “Jerzy Kosinski.” In Contemporary Novelists, edited by James Vinson. London: St. James Press, 1976. Includes comments by Kosinski and critical appraisal of his most distinguished novels. Fein honors the vision of Kosinski and sees his works as “strange hymns to suffering.”

Lavers, Norman. Jerzy Kosinski. Boston: Twayne, 1982. An appreciative critical study that considers Kosinski a major writer. Discusses his fiction and nonfiction novels with some biographical information and provides considerable critical commentary on The Painted Bird. Contains a selected bibliography. A useful introduction to the beginning reader of Kosinski.

Lilly, Paul R., Jr. Words in Search of Victims: The Achievement of Jerzy Kosinski. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1988. A full-length appreciative critical study of Kosinski’s novels with much of interest and value for the Kosinski scholar. Includes a discussion of the controversy with The Village Voice, which attacked Kosinski’s authenticity and compositional methods.

Lupack, Barbara Tepa. Plays of Passion, Games of Chance: Jerzy Kosinski and His Fiction. Bristol, Ind.: Wyndham Hall Press, 1988.

Sloan, James Park. Jerzy Kosinski: A Biography. New York: Dutton, 1996. An excellent, updated biography of the author.

Tepa Lupack, Barbara, ed. Critical Essays on Jerzy Kosinski. New York: G. K. Hall, 1998. Thoughtful essays on Kosinski’s writing. Includes bibliographical references and an index.