Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Jerzy Kosinski stated that he preferred Steps to all his other writings. It has been translated into more than twenty-five languages, and it received both the National Institute of Arts and Letters Award for Literature and the National Book Award. Steps is experimental fiction belonging to the “new wave” school led by the French author Alain Robbe-Grillet. Events dominate, and readers must participate in the action if they are to find meaning in the work. Its unusual, brilliant tone and technique sets Steps apart from other fiction of its time.

In 1967, Jerzy Kosinski received a Guggenheim Fellowship to write the novel. His purpose, as he explained it, was to discover the self through incidents that were symbolic of the world. He said that the book’s characters and their relationships exist in a fissure of time between past and present.

The novel proceeds in short sentences; it is told in the first person except for the last incident, which is in the third person. Place-names are not given. Poland may be the setting for some of the incidents; others may take place in the United States (the author lived in both places). There is no unifying plot, no order to time in the work. The characters are like stick figures, stripped to their bare bones. They have no personalities and are nameless. Only the women are allowed admirable traits.

The narrator is a man trying to discover who he is in a world he considers hostile. Having come from a Communist country where human beings are externally controlled, he is surprised to find that there are collective forces in the new country that prevent the self from being free. Both society and religion exert control over people.

Much of Kosinski’s writing is autobiographical. He spews the horrors he encountered in Communist Poland out onto his pages in graphic form, colored dramatically by his vivid imagination. The jobs held by his narrator are jobs that Kosinski, too, held at various times. An outgrowth of his first novel, The Painted Bird (1965), in which he was a child, Steps shows the author as a young man. The incidents seem...

(The entire section is 884 words.)