Diary of a Madman and Facing the Forests Essay

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U.S. War in Iraq

Mental Decadence

A number of strikingly poignant similarities exist in the short stories composed by A.B. Yehoshua, "Facing the Forests," and Lu Xun, "A Madman's Diary." The most eminent of these, however, pertains to the thematic issues that both authors choose to deal with within these works, which is the degeneration of or loss of sanity incurred within the central protagonists. Stylistically, of course, the author's take two different paths to illustrate this common theme, as Xun does so via the first-person narrative of a diary of a young man, whereas Yehoshua adopts s somewhat more conventional approach of utilizing a third-person narrative that is every bit as impersonal as the former is intimate.

In such a way do these works of literature painstakingly portray the inexorable process of a loss of center, which is actually the gradual dissolution of mental coherence that is at once inexorable and terrifying.

One of the most remarkable aspects about the dissolution of sanity that is demonstrated within both of these works is that each author indicates a natural progression towards what is best termed as insanity. Stylistically, both short stories are written without names for the central characters within them, which helps to emphasize the fact that such mental vagrancy can happen to virtually anyone. Xun begins her work from a rather inexplicable perspective that there is a character undertaking the reading of a diary of a man who was once mentally ill and is now no longer. However, it is key to note within this text that the author illustrates the mental progression of a nameless brother's bout with insanity by initially characterizing his symptoms as unfounded fear and paranoia in others -- which the following quotation readily suggests.

Tonight the moon is very bright. I have not seen it for over thirty years, so today when I saw it I felt in unusually high spirits. I begin to realize that during the past thirty-odd years I have been in the dark; but now I must be extremely careful. Otherwise why should that do at the Chao house have looked at me twice? I have reason for my fear (Xun).

This quotation, which begins the short story, demonstrates that the narrator is irrationally fearful -- counting the times that the neighbor's dog "looked" at him, and even readily admitting that he is possessed by a "fear." Yet aside from the reference to a prolonged time period without seeing the moon -- which is merely improbable, not impossible, and therefore not a reason to suggest an innate lunacy -- such a passage is merely extremely suggestive of the type of paranoia that could generate into any one of forms of insanity, even the variety of "persecution complex" that the protagonist is diagnosed as having had at the time he made these diary entries. Therefore, the loss of center and the dissolution of sanity of this young man is a something that is slowly unveiled to the reader throughout the course of this manuscript -- which emphasizes the potency of such a condition.

But whereas the loss of sanity of the main character in Xun's work is never explained, Yehoshua provides a fairly thorough explanation for the loss of mental stability that eventually grips the central character within his narrative. A college student takes a post as a firewatcher in the state of Israel shortly after Israel's war of independence in 1948, fairly sound in mind, if not in purpose. He has sought such a position due to the solitude it affords him which he is hoping to utilize as a means of focusing on school work and studying. However, the intensity of that solitude eventually leads him to forsake both his schoolwork and duties as a firewatcher, eventually, which the following quotation sufficiently proves. "The heavy responsibility that has fallen upon his shoulders bewilders him. Hardest of all is the silence. Even with himself he hardly manages to say a word. Will he be able to open a book here?"(Yehoshua 3080). What is most significant about this quotation is not just that the solitude and its accompanying "silence" is what eventually leads to this students to eventually become a relatively savage madmen at the completion of the story, but that at the onset of this tale, the student is anything but someone out of his wits. His preoccupation with his studies (and his ability to delve into "a book") indicates that he is someone who is of marked intelligence, not merely sane. In this respect, then, Yehoshua is making it clear that the loss of center for this student is one that is solely attributed to the extenuating circumstances and "heavy responsibilities" incurred at living in isolation, and is a gradual process the likes of which may possess anyone in similar circumstances.

The full loss of intellectual cognizance that overtakes the nameless protagonist in Xun's tale dominates the bulk of the text. What is most significant about this story is that there is no explanation of the descent into madness that characterizes this person -- and even less of an explanation as to how he is eventually cured and able to "take up an official post" somewhere as someone who is employable. Instead, the reader is only left with the growing sense of delusion that gains the better of its victim, and eventually deteriorates into a type of madness in which he is convinced that his surrounding community is not only comprised of cannibals, but that they desire to eat him, in particular. The following quotation in which he is visited by a doctor readily demonstrates this fact.

…I knew quite well that this old man was the executioner in disguise! He simply used the pretext of feeling my pulse to see how fat I was; for doing so he would receive a share of my flesh. Still, I was not afraid. Although I do not eat men, my courage is greater than theirs (Xun).

The protagonist's descent into madness must be fairly pronounced if he even suspects a physician as part of the conspiracy to eat him. Moreover, the delusion of believing that the doctor takes the patient's pulse simply to see if he is fat enough for human consumption, certainly attests to the fact that this character has certainly lost his center in terms of his ability to perceive reality as it truly appears around him. In this respect, there is little doubt that such a person has lost his grips upon sanity, the details of which are chronicled with great care by the author. What is truly interesting about how Xun chooses to illustrate this process, is that she does so in a way that the reader is able to know what is actually going on, whereas the protagonist has skewed interpretations of these same events. In such a way, the author is able to convincingly denote the character's loss of sanity.

Generally speaking, the student's progression into an insane mind state is accompanied by a greater sense of awareness on the part of the students turned firewatcher in Yehoshua's short story. The solitude of the forest that the student inhabits with just a couple of other companion's -- namely a mute Arab man and his very young daughter -- inevitably attributes to the loss of his mental center especially once he discovers that the woodland area is centered upon the an Arab village that was destroyed in the wake of Israel's claiming of the territory. Still, the mental prowess of the student and his regard for his job as a firewatcher were slipping even before the fully recognized this fact. Whereas once this character was a college students with the propensity for understanding lofty and advanced ideas and ideologies, his time spent in isolation has…[continue]

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