The Scapegoat Critical Context - Essay

René Girard

Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

The Scapegoat is an important work of intellectual inquiry in several respects. First, Girard’s argument that the Gospels provide a key to decoding the scapegoat mechanism asserts the importance of biblical studies and may be seen as part of a larger trend, the renewed interest in the Bible as the “supreme supertext of Western civilization,” as Gerald Gillespie has expressed it in a review. Thus, for example, along with Girard’s The Scapegoat, Gillespie discusses Northrop Frye’s The Great Code (1983), and Frank Kermode’s The Genesis of Secrecy: On the Interpretation of Narrative (1979).

Second, as an elaboration of Girard’s continued interest in the relationship between violence and religion, the scope of The Scapegoat places it in the category of those interdisciplinary studies which attempt to deal with large philosophical issues rather than narrow specialities. Though perhaps rather incidental to Girard’s main purpose, the results for the study of literature have been salutary. By rejecting the obsessive concern with the intricacies and problems of language in recent literary studies, Girard reaffirms the value of literature, arguing that it too can reveal the true nature of violence. Finally, Girard’s style, in sharp contrast to the dense and complex styles of many poststructuralist critics, is relatively simple and clear. As in The Scapegoat, Girard’s belief in the power of ideas to effect cultural change gives rise to an impassioned style that invigorates intellectual inquiry.