April 26, 2018.
Humanity in Contemporary Fiction
Arthur Koestler pictures a scene from the time beyond the reach of history: a group of sophisticated apes living in perfect amity amongst the trees, looking sombrely down upon the Neanderthals who 'transgressed every law and tradition of the jungle.' From the perspective of the apes, Koestler laments, 'humans were a barbaric relapse of history' [Koestler, Darkness at noon].
Humanity has always considered itself to be superior to those it labels 'beasts'. Seeking to distance themselves from the 'inferior' creatures, Man has encouraged the imposition of the superego over the id. While technological advancements ensured superiority over other animals, humankind sought to cement the idea of their perceived supremacy in the minds of the subsequent generations. Hence, with the need for social conditioning, concepts such as religion and morality gained prominence.
Humanity, as a moral concept, is very loosely defined as 'the quality of being human.' The notion of 'humanity' tailors itself to fit the whims of the superego. Humanism preaches belief in the benevolent and moral human who is placed upon an ideological pedestal. It is important to consider, however, that the hold of this 'moral superiority' upon the human psyche is tenuous at best; dependent upon routine and bound within the constraints of individual ambition.
It has often been observed that literature is a 'reflection' of society. It provides insight into the ideologies of a culture and serves a means of recording history. The history of humankind is rich and varied, laden with colourful prose and winding ballads; detailing the triumphant march of humanity. It is through literature that the individual introduces and explores novel concepts and ruminates on the nature of human life. It is, therefore, inevitable that literature is used as a medium to ponder over the meaning and significance of humanity, in an attempt to fully grasp the weight of our existence. This essay is an attempt to detail the portrayal of humanity in contemporary fiction, focusing particularly on Philip Pullman's The Good Man Jesus And The Scoundrel Christ and The Road by Cormac McCarthy.
Pullman, in his book, The Good Man Jesus And The Scoundrel Christ, establishes the human nature and 'humanity' as a concept beyond the mere one-dimensional superego. The mystique of the New Testament seems to fade away as the reader is presented with biblical characters who appear to be utterly mundane; with human dreams and ambitions. The potential of the human is limitless, and Pullman elaborates this by arguing that it was Man who created God in his image, contrary to what the creationist Bible suggests. The tale of the twins Jesus and Christ is one which is utterly devoid of altruism and nobility. Pullman's characters are cynical and base; driven by conflicting desires and ideals. Although Jesus gains the spotlight, it is Christ who acts as Pullman's mouthpiece in the tale.