A Study of the Picaresque Novel in Twentieth-Century America
Deters, Mary E.
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The picaresque novel originated as a genre in sixteenth-century Spain. Many consider the novel a logical reaction to the romances with their rules of chivalry and perfect endings. Three novels are referred to as classic examples: "Lazarillo de Tormes," "Guzman de Alfarache," and "El Buscon." These novels form the basis for study or comparison of later picaresque novels. The novel virtually disappeared in the eighteenth century, primarily because of the rise of the realistic novel, and does not seem to make a significant return until the twentieth century. One of the primary reasons for the novel's reappearance in America is a climate similar to that of its birth. Sixteenth-century Spain seemed chaotic, for in the midst of wealth, thousands were starving. Likewise, twentieth-century America seems chaotic, due to the World Wars, Depression and mechanization. Early in this century, authors presented this chaos in the naturalistic novel. The picaresque novel does not seem to make a significant return until existentialism replaces some of the popularity of naturalism. The purpose of this paper is to explore the definition of picaresque, to compare the conditions of sixteenth-century Spain with twentieth-century America, and then primarily to examine two picaresque novels -- Saul Bellow's "The Adventures of Augie March" and Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man" -- both written in the early fifties.
Picaresque literature -- History and criticism
Ellison, Ralph. Invisible man
Bellow, Saul. Adventures of Augie March