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Literature and Human Equality

Justman, Stewart

Publication Year: 2006

When Achilles dons his armor, gods and readers alike know the outcome, as does the hero himself. But when the commoner becomes the hero, when, as Dr. Johnson remarked in 1750, the heroes of modern fiction are "leveled with the rest of the world" now that's a different story. In this ambitious work, Stewart Justman ranges across Western literature from the Iliad and the Odyssey through Cervantes and Shakespeare to Dickens, Tolstoy, and Dostoevsky to show how such a leveling not only changed the appearance of literature, but made possible new ways of constructing a tale.

Published by: Northwestern University Press


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pp. v-vi

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pp. 3-22

When Odysseus and his men drive a red-hot beam into the eye of the Cyclops, the burning eye hisses like hot metal thrust into cold water in the blacksmith’s forge: As when a man who works as a blacksmith plunges a screaming great ax blade or plane into cold water, treating it for temper, since this is the way steel is made strong, even so Cyclops’ eye sizzled about the beam of the olive. (9.391–94) This simile is remarkable not only because...

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Chapter 1: The Odyssey: Inequality of Knowledge

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pp. 23-31

Only a few pages into War and Peace, at Anna Pavlovna Scherer’s soirée, an elderly woman approaches Prince Vasili on behalf of her son. “What would it cost you to say a word to the Emperor, and then he would be transferred to the Guards at once?” (15). In this social world depicted as if through the lens of Rousseau’s Discourse on Inequality, it seems that all depends on having friends

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Chapter 2: Callirhoe: Equal Protagonists

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pp. 32-36

In the last book of the Greek romance Callirhoe, as the reunited hero and heroine go to bed, the author marks the occasion with the language of the corresponding scene in the Odyssey: “they gladly came to the ancient rite of the bed” (369).1 Throughout Callirhoe the verse of Homer is on display thus, used mainly for purposes of ornament as if to enhance the dignity...

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Chapter 3: Notes on Shakespearean Equality

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pp. 37-47

When Odysseus, disguised as a beggar, puts friend, foe, and even his own father through a series of tests before revealing himself, he does this not to increase suspense or because of any practical necessity, but simply, it seems to me, to dramatize his own godlike power to conceal and reveal his identity. The gods are essentially above necessity, and Athena, his own protector and a kindred...

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Chapter 4: Great Expectations: “Absolute Equality”

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pp. 48-69

The Greek romance, of which Callirhoe is one, has been called “a latter-day epic for Everyman,” the expression of an “equalitarian” age and outlook—and this in the derogatory sense that it adapted itself to “all kinds of values high and low” (as might be said of the mass media today) and addressed itself to readers reduced to an equal degree of insignificance.1 But for whatever reason—perhaps

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Chapter 5: War and Peace: The Presence of the Unknown

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pp. 70-90

Having journeyed to the underworld on Circe’s instructions to consult the prophet Tiresias, Odysseus receives the mysterious message that he might just possibly reach home despite Poseidon’s enmity, but that after he kills the suitors he must undertake another journey. Critical to Odysseus’s prospects, it seems, is his visit to the island...

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Chapter 6: “The Death of Ivan Ilych”: Text vs. Author

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pp. 91-108

As we know, near the end of the Discourse on Inequality Rousseau observes that we socialized people “have only façades, deceptive and frivolous, honour without virtue, reason without wisdom, and pleasure without happiness.” “Social man lives always outside himself; he knows how to live only in the opinion of others.”1 The hero of...

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Chapter 7: Quixotism in The Brothers Karamazov

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pp. 109-132

If, as M. M. Bakhtin argues, the hero of a novel cannot be “a clerk, a landowner, a merchant, a fiancé, a jealous lover, a father,” and nothing more,1 in the person of Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov we meet a landowner who “hardly ever lived on his own estate” (7), a businessman who pays no attention to his taverns, a father who more or less forgot the existence of his sons and stands as a kind of antithesis...

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Chapter 8: Reflections: Literature and Human Equality

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pp. 133-146

As an example of a work of literature that, in contrast (say) to The Brothers Karamazov, does place superior knowledge in the reader’s hands, consider the Knight’sTale, the inaugural tale of Chaucer’s collection. Toward the end of the tale (the longest of all the Canterbury Tales, as though the Knight were exercising his pride of place in narrative form), some years after the freakish death of his cousin at the very mo-...


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pp. 147-162

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Editions Cited

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pp. 163-164

All works listed are cited by page number in text and notes unless otherwise indicated here. Chariton. Callirhoe. Translated by G. P. Goold. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univer-Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. San Francisco: Rinehart, 1948. (Cited by chap-Dostoevsky, Fyodor. The Brothers Karamazov. Translated by Richard Pevear andHomer. The Iliad. Translated by Richmond Lattimore. Chicago: University of Chi-...


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pp. 165-167

E-ISBN-13: 9780810161757
Print-ISBN-13: 9780810123236

Page Count: 176
Publication Year: 2006

Edition: 1