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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 510

Tertz achieves his “phantasmagoric” view of reality by using an alien creature from another planet as his narrator. He thus compels the reader to view the world through the eyes of the alien and presents the reader with an unconventional perspective on human habits and customs. Even the most common...

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Tertz achieves his “phantasmagoric” view of reality by using an alien creature from another planet as his narrator. He thus compels the reader to view the world through the eyes of the alien and presents the reader with an unconventional perspective on human habits and customs. Even the most common elements of daily human life are made to seem strange. Sausage and scrambled eggs are perceived as “a gut that’s swallowed itself garnished with stillborn chickens.” The normal human body is viewed as grotesque, and the alien is puzzled by society’s puritanical attitudes toward sex, which is shrouded in secrecy. He finds human clothing distasteful and longs to shed his disguise and reveal the full splendor of his appearance. When he disrobes, his body opens up like a palm, extending his four limbs or hands like branches and revealing eyes in his hands and feet, the crown of his head, and the nape of his neck. He regards himself as “the only example of that lost harmony and beauty” that characterized his homeland.

The only human beings with which the alien can identify are hunchbacks; and the plants he most admires, collects, and cares for are cacti, which he refers to as his “little hump-backed children.” When the alien attempts to make contact with the hunchback Leopold, he expresses his delight in “this skillful caricature of humanity, this art which was all the more like the real thing because it was so absurd.” For Tertz, only absurd, fantastic images can reveal the fundamental absurdity of life.

Although physically unattractive by conventional human standards, the alien is spiritually beautiful. He is sensitive, sincere, caring, and has a strong sense of his own moral worth and dignity. He values his uniqueness and wishes to hide from humans in order to protect himself from their scorn. Tertz’s satiric method is brilliantly employed when the alien contemplates his fate, were his true identity to be revealed. Academics would rush to examine, question, and interrogate him in disregard of his feelings and wishes. He would be commercially exploited through theses, films, and poems. The novelty of his appearance would result in new fashion trends. “Ladies would start wearing green lipstick and having their hats made to look like cactus.” Children, streets, and dogs would be named after him. He would become “as famous as Lev Tolstoy, or Gulliver, or Hercules. Or Galileo Galilei.”

By associating the alien with the heretics Tolstoy and Galileo, Tertz underscores the role of the alien as nonconformist. His identification of the alien with Hercules, a mythical hero, reinforces the role of the alien as hero of the story. Most important, however, Tertz associates his art with a satiric literary tradition represented by Gulliver, the hero of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726). The alien, like Gulliver, has made a fantastic voyage and has viewed his surroundings from the perspective of an outsider. Tertz thus reaffirms the value of satire and fantasy as a healthy corrective to the shortcomings of human beings, their foibles, and their societal conventions.

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