Implications of the themes of the "living" and the "dead" in four decades of Patrick White's novels
Master of Arts
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A lifelong search into the very nature of reality and the soul has led Australian Nobel Prize-winner Patrick White to investigate some of the explanations which man has been attempting to provide since time immemorial. The scope of his interests encompasses the perspectives of Plato and the Neo-Platonists, mediaeval alchemy, Jewish mysticism and the Cabbala, Christianity and Buddhism, and Jungian depth psychology. White’s sensitivity has put him in touch with the primaeval archetypes and myths; aspects of each of the areas of White's interest lend themselves to interpretation through both archetypes and myths. As a result, it is possible to detect three basic and related themes which pervade all White's work. The first of these themes is the dichotomy expressed in the title The Living and the Dead. This dichotomy has been chosen as the title of this thesis not only because, as one of life's basic dichotomies, it underlies all his work, but as well because the two other themes are so intimately involved with dichotomies. Another fundamental dichotomy is that of Physis and Nous. In order to be among the "living," White's characters must draw from both sides of this dichotomy. The physical must be tempered with the spiritual and vice versa. Likewise, reason must be tempered with imagination, and the "living" must suffer some kind of spiritual or symbolic death. There are moments in life when inklings into the meaning of these dichotomies are vouchsafed. If one profits from these moments, one can begin the process towards becoming whole. These special moments occur when the spiritual and physical worlds come closest together. Thus, dichotomies underlie the second of the two themes—the process of becoming. The myth of rebirth is the third related theme. This myth stands as an analogy for the enlightenment or wholeness which all White’s "living" characters eventually achieve. Their enlightenment may be apocalyptic, or it may be gradual; it may come with death,or it may come before. Whatever the case, it is always preceded by some kind of spiritual or symbolic death which shows how closely related is this theme to the dichotomy of the "living" and the "dead." The intent of this thesis is to show how these three themes, investigated through a variety of perspectives, are represented in four major decades of White's work. For this purpose, four main novels have been chosen for detailed study: The Living and the Dead (1941), Voss (1957), The Solid Mandala (1966), and The Eye of the Stozm (1973). The 1980*s, beginning with the autobiographical musings. Flaws in the Glass, have shown White's continued interest in these questions; as an illustration, a less detailed study of Memoirs of Many in One is included in the conclusion of this thesis.