Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 263
The Secret History is the critically acclaimed debut novel by author Donna Tartt. The novel centers on Richard Papen, a college freshman from California who harbors angst and bitterness towards his unloving parents. He moves to Vermont to attend college. The act of geographically moving across the country is symbolic of how much distance he wants to place between himself and his parents.
At the beginning of the novel, the murder is already revealed to the reader. This allows Tartt to explore the social dynamics and both the individual and group psychology of violent crime. In this regard, The Secret History is reminiscent of Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, which explores the human psyche and attempts to dissect the motivations and complex factors of crime.
The Secret History is also a critique on the modern youth culture—particularly the youth of the 1980s—with depictions of drug usage. love, sex and explorations into the then-stigmatized act of homosexuality. Tartt depicts the upper-class and upper-middle class youth as hedonistic people who have lost their values in a culture of apathy.
The novel also depicts the duality or contradictory nature of people. Richard wants to study the Greek classics, is a fan of The Great Gatsby, and has an escapist mentality; yet his desire for an ideal life and his grandiose self-image contradicts his actions.
The Secret History, like the works of novelist Bret Easton Ellis and poet Jim Carroll, depicts the modern American youth's gluttonous consumption of drugs, experiences, pop culture, and other pleasures, all the while the murder itself becomes almost secondary.
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