Places Discussed


*Batavia (ba-TAY-vee-uh). Large town in western New York, near the Great Lakes. Author John Gardner was born in Batavia and spent most of his youth there. His novel The Resurrection (1966) creates a Batavia that geographically resembles the Batavia he knew. Unlike The Resurrection, whose protagonist leaves and returns to Batavia and contrasts his idealized memory of the town with the present reality of its changes, the central characters in The Sunlight Dialogue are life-long residents of Batavia. They notice its small changes gradually.

Batavia is a nondescript backdrop, familiar to most people even if they have never been to the town itself; it is a typical town of the mid-1960’s. Batavia serves as the typical middle-class American town with typical middle-American virtues and vices, a perfect setting in which to explore the effect of the changing times on individual characters. The marks of the changes that are affecting the rest of the nation at this time become evident: an influx of new residents of different races and nationalities, a rise in violence and drinking, changes in labor and the work ethic. The town cannot cope with these changes; it is dying and decaying, as are many of its citizens in this novel.

Placing the novel’s magical, mysterious plot in this realistic setting grounds it and makes it easier to relate to, though not entirely believable. Batavia faces a confusing...

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Cowart, David. Arches and Light: The Fiction of John Gardner. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1983. Interprets The Sunlight Dialogues as centered on the human struggle against universal entropy. Includes helpful genre analysis and perceptive analogizing to Sir Thomas Malory, Dante Alighieri, and Homer.

Morris, Gregory L. “A Babylonian in Batavia: Mesopotamian Literature and Lore in The Sunlight Dialogues.” In John Gardner: Critical Perspectives, edited by Robert A. Morace and Kathryn VanSpanckeren. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1982. A thorough explanation of the Mesopotamian history, lore, and cultural tradition underlying the four “dialogues” between the Sunlight Man and Chief Clumly; the four dialogues are the controlling structures of The Sunlight Dialogues.

Morris, Gregory L. A World of Order and Light: The Fiction of John Gardner. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1984. Astute analysis of The Sunlight Dialogues as “the artistic and intellectual center” of all Gardner’s fiction; Gardner explains his “governing metaphysical system” in The Sunlight Dialogues. Analyzes the complex, multilayered structure of Gardner’s most challenging novel, The Sunlight Dialogues.

Payne, Alison. “Clown, Monster, Magician: The Purpose of Lunacy in John Gardner’s Fiction.” In Thor’s Hammer: Essays on John Gardner, edited by Jeff Henderson, et al. Conway: University of Central Arkansas Press, 1985. A perceptive study of insanity in several Gardner novels. Includes detailed analysis of the symbolic divergence of the emotional idealism of the Sunlight Man and the rational practicality of Chief Clumly in The Sunlight Dialogues.

Winther, Per. The Art of John Gardner: Instruction and Exploration. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992. Discusses Gardner’s literary theory and his fiction and provides insight into the philosophical bases of important characters in The Sunlight Dialogues. Includes helpful discussion of Gardner’s collage technique.