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Themes

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 352

Although the particular historical events around which his novels revolve may change, several recurrent themes dominate Malraux's literary perspective. For instance, exoticism and violence, blindness and suffering, and the ubiquitous presence of death appear throughout his writings. Malraux portrays the human condition as tragic, but it is precisely in confronting this situation, that man experiences hope. His novels, therefore, oscillate between the pessimism of individual existence and the optimism of collective action. In Man's Fate Malraux recreates the 1927 Shanghai workers' strike and Chiang Kaishek's subsequent military struggle against the Communists, because he saw in this political cauldron a perfect metaphor for man's tragic situation as well as the ideal setting to express his own poetic image of mankind, namely, men united in death for a common cause. Unlike the historical reality it portrays, however, Malraux's fictional world demands that its hero die, for only in sacrificial death can one transcend the metaphysical anguish and solitude inherent in modern man's notion of individualism. Whereas Malraux's previous novels focused on one individual's quest for wholeness, Man's Fate describes a large number of individuals whose interaction dramatically illustrates man's alienation both from himself and from others. For example, there is Tchen, a terrorist who becomes utterly obsessed with killing; there is Ferral, a powerful businessman blinded by his unquenchable thirst for power; there is Baron de Clappique, whose blatant self-rejection moves him to choose a mythical existence of disguises; there is Konig, the police chief, whose deep-seated self-hatred causes him to be impotent. Even Kyo Gtsor, a man deeply involved in revolutionary service, is depicted as alienated from within and without, for he is unable to recognize his own voice when played back to him on tape, a fact that graphically confirms his own confession that he feels more alienated from himself than from his unfaithful wife. Nevertheless, when Kyo and a Russian comrade, Katow, face death together, heroically, by offering their cyanide capsules to fellow prisoners so that their comrades would not have to suffer the pain of being burned alive, their initial fear of death is replaced by feelings of solidarity and brotherhood.

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