Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Lagerkvist was a part of the expressionist scene in Europe. He followed his compatriot August Strindberg in expressionistic drama, and he introduced the principles of cubist literature into his native Sweden. His earliest fiction and drama is expressionist. In his late work, including the Tobias trilogy, he fully developed his cubist stylistics of planar simplicity and simultaneity of multiple perspectives. His simple prose is the equivalent of the cubist painting which emphasizes its canvas as two-dimensional and makes it, as such, an instrument of linear abstraction rather than of counterfeit three-dimensional perspective. His cubist perspectives are discernible in, for ex-ample, his superimposition of the metaphysical upon the psychological and the timeless upon the temporal, his simultaneous presentations of conflicting modes of religious mystery, or his oxymora and endoxa. An example of his oxymora is Ahasuerus’ mortal immortality, the herdsmen’s ageless age, or Tobias’ religious atheism. Lagerkvist identified himself as a “religious atheist” in Den knutna naven (1934; The Clenched Fist, 1982). An example of his endoxa, or ambiguous probability, is his frequent use of som om (literally “as if,” the als ob of the philosopher Hans Vaihinger) and of questions that admit of no answer or of more than one answer, such as, “Why were there three [crosses]? Why not just one?”

The cubist simultaneity of perspectives is...

(The entire section is 427 words.)