Themes

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 265

Erich Auerbach's Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature is a profound work of literary criticism, written originally in German in 1946. As the subtitle suggests, it is a discussion of the representations of everyday life in literature, dating from the Greco-Roman period to the twentieth century. Each chapter is devoted to a one or two known works of literature, spanning the centuries from Homer to Virginia Woolf. He begins with just a representative quote from each work, and uses the piece of literature as a jumping off point to discuss the culture that produced it.

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The themes of Mimesis are everyday life, the position of the concept of the divine in society, and various rhetorical styles.

Auerbach's observation of literary styles among history leads him to claim that art imitates life, which is inherently random, comic, and (especially) tragic. Auerbach is concerned with literature for its ability to represent everyday life.

Auerbach also devotes attention to the Old and New Testament. Auerbach claims that the concept of the divine is really just the result of a thought and value system of the Jews. The rhetorical style of Scripture is, according to Auerbach, different form other contemporary works of classical philology as well as modern works, because it doesn't seek to depict or appeal to everyday life, but instead represents ordinary peoples' encounters with the divine.

Auerbach acknowledged various literary styles, which are modes of discourse, such as the high style (tragic and epic) and low style (comedy), dating from the classical period. Scripture, according to Auerbach, is a mix of high and low styles.

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