Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

There has been in Turkey a long and cherished tradition of banditry, where outlaws felt called upon to express popular dissatisfaction with the prevailing order. Often political upheaval, weakening the powers of the central government, permitted local chieftains to assert themselves in various parts of Anatolia. During such times there was sometimes admiration or sympathy for noted brigands; songs and folktales sprang up celebrating the audacity and exploits of various outlaw leaders. It was from this tradition that Yashar Kemal’s first novel was drawn. At various places in Memed, My Hawk there are references to outlaw leaders from the past, some fictitious and some real. It may be contended that the characterization is overly romanticized and that it depends upon ideal types which are essentially based upon the author’s efforts to recapture the more heroic elements in the outlaw tradition. Kemal’s interest in folklore, which portrays bandits in a guise that is larger than life, may have affected his fictional creations; on the other hand, this conception may have produced a more gripping and evocative work than would have resulted from efforts at a more balanced and evenhanded narrative. All the same, this novel should be read for the sense of action and adventure it conveys. As social commentary its effect may suffer somewhat from the author’s stereotypical approach.

The undercurrents of violence that run through this work illustrate another aspect of Kemal’s social vision. According to the author, village life in Turkey is conditioned to a great extent by violence and responses to brutality. Orderly processes for settling disputes do not really seem to exist; even those who exercise some legal functions ally themselves with those who can bring the use of force to bear on any outstanding issues. In some respects the author may have generalized from certain egregious examples. It may be asked, for example, whether the savage beatings and intimidation Abdi and his minions dispense necessarily are typical of practices in all rural communities throughout Turkey. In some ways, indeed, it could be contended that, for Memed and his companions to be cast in a glowing light, it is correspondingly necessary for their opponents to be depicted in the darkest possible hues. Thus the demands of plot and narrative functions may have produced contrasts that conceivably may be unnecessarily severe.