Critique Of Kane And Abel Essay, Research Paper
Jeffrey Archer?s epic novel Kane And Abel could just as easily be two novels; one named Kane and the other Abel, such is the difference between the two characters. From the outset, we are aware of William Lowell Kane?s privilege and of Abel Rosnovski?s poverty. Both are born 15th April, 1905 as male members of the human race. These are the most obvious similarities shared by the two. Their contrasted births introduce us to two different personalities and two different histories, which fate is to overlap at critical moments.
Abel is born in a forest in Poland. A young hunter, alert to the sound of screaming, rushes to the mother and child. Mother is dead and the hunter feels responsible for this child:
?Suddenly the young hunter saw the woman, with her dress above her waist, her bare legs sprayed wide apart. He had never seen a woman like that before. He ran quickly to her side and stared down at her belly, quite frightened to touch. There, lying beneath the woman’s legs, was the body of a small, damp, pink animal, attached only by something that looked like a rope……?
Observe the difference of William?s birth:
?…..It never occurred to him, not even for a moment, that the baby might be a girl. He turned to the financial pages and checked the stock market: it had dropped a few points; that damned earthquake had taken $100,000 off the value of his own holdings at the bank, but as his personal fortune remained comfortably over $16 million, it was going to take more than a California earthquake to move him …”Congratulations, Sir, you have a son, a fine-looking little boy.” What silly remarks people make when a child is born, the father thought; how could it be anything but little? The news hadn’t yet dawned on him – a son. He almost thanked God. The obstetrician ventured a question to break the silence. “Have you decided what you will name him?” The father answered without hesitation: “William Lowell Kane…..?
Abel is born into a world which thereafter conspired to take his mother. William?s father is so unconcerned with the labour that it fails to stir him from his daily routine of studying the ?financial pages?. The pressure for each baby is different. Abel is surrounded by the unconcealed despair and uncertainty which represent being poor. William?s pressure is his father?s expectations and the schedule which was struck by his entrance into the world. Abel has an abundance of time, too much for a peasant to use yet enough for him to squander. William is not given enough time. How does each character handle the demands of his life? This is a question which underlies the entire novel. Throughout the course of this critique, I hope to show you Archer?s answer, the intended meanings and an analysis of his success at this.
In the biblical version of Kane and Abel, it is Kane (rebelling against God) who kills his brother, Abel. However, in this story, the relation is not blood but fate. Additionally, it is Abel who kills Kane (metaphorically) with his greater success. This, I believe and hope to show, is an example of Archer?s idea that we have a preconceived belief as to the outcome of a story, event or life. The first impression, upon reading the title (if a reader is familiar with the biblical reference), is that Kane will be victorious and it will be at Abel?s expense. This is exactly what the author wants – to show us our prejudices and preferences for one outcome where it is also possible for the opposite to result.
There is a key element which flows throughout this book. It is the link between heritage and future successes. Jeffrey Archer continually reminds us of William Kane?s rich ancestry just as he does Abel Rosnovski?s peasant upbringing, albeit one given lucky breaks at critical junctures in his life. At each stage where the past is returned to the reader?s attention, we are asked to consider has William fulfilled his destiny? has Abel subsisted under the pressure of being impoverished? There is a sense of despair whenever one contrasts the success of William?s father to his own because he is perpetually lagging behind. Abel, in a similar vain, is different in reality to the expected position life was to afford him.
Abel, as a character, epitomises hope, drive and continued activity – he uses his abundance of time with supreme efficiency. His mind possesses a positivity which allows him to live in the worst squalor and see a shining light inviting him to better abodes. Knowing the pleasure as well as the bitterness of life, Abel is quick to seize his opportunities. From the Polish immigrant slumming in America, he rises to become owner of an extensive hotel empire. In contrast, William appears to the reader as inadequate in his position at the family bank. Crossing paths, he has the opportunity to invest in Abel?s idea but declines. This is his opportunity to show that he has the business acumen necessary to succeed. It is a risky proposition; give a Polish peasant funding for an adventurous plan to create a hotel chain across America. The books and university training of William tell him it is too risky. He does not have an intuitive sense about what inevitably becomes extremely profitable. This is the pivotal scene for the career aspect of the novel. Later, we discover that William felt badly about doing so. There is an element of doubt which we see in William which suggests he is not willing to live up to his fate. He does not have the composure to reject a proposal nor the business sense (which cannot be taught) to accept. Abel, is the opposite in this regard. He seizes opportunities, knowing that what he wants to be, he necessarily will become. The rejection does not deter him because he senses the strength of his idea and it is fulfilled with conviction. He won?t be a passenger to life but William is : The height of William?s business career is at his birth, where it is expected without doubt that he will take over control of the bank from his father. By the book?s end, he is dead and never achieves this position. Abel has his height at the novel?s end, and there is a hint that, had the novel not finished at this point, he would experience still greater success in his career.
One suspects that Archer is giving insight into his views regarding the rearing of children. The consequences of money are not necessarily good just as birth into poverty is not an automatic death sentence without appeal. Whereas William is a scholar whose scope extends to history, Abel is a part of history, experiencing World War I first hand. The privilege which William is born into has the capacity to protect him from such dangers, yet the price is hefty as it steals from him a well-balanced appreciation of the good and bad aspects of human existence. Tasting the finer things in life gives William an indifference to such happiness, if he is not careful, which is just as harmful as seeing soldiers kill civilians in Poland. The protection extends to the workplace as William is eased into the position his father foresaw him attaining, indeed the position which his father saw as purpose for his birth. Love is the only real outlet for William, it is like an intravenous drip connecting him to the fluctuating world. Abel is quite the opposite. He is in touch with the ups and downs of the universe, as if his heart were to keep beat by the seconds hand of an analogue clock.
As a portrayal of the harsh business environment, Archer is good. He expresses the struggles for power and the corruption, giving them human expression through his two central characters. He blends the business world well with family and the pursuit of love. This enhances appreciation of their situations, mindful of the entire story, and we can place ourselves in their roles and consider how we might react. For this, I must say the novel?s psychological aspects are well crafted and realistic. However, Archer?s book is monumental. It spans a lifetime and feels as such upon completion of the 582nd page. This allows the reader to gain an intimate understanding of the two central characters through the chronicling of the bulk of their lives. The recurring themes and continual returns to the past read like a soap opera which hooks the disinterested viewer with tiring plot summaries that disastrously breaks up the show?s flow and serve as distraction to the unravelling of the predictable plot. I feel a strong urge to ask of the author, ?Who are you expecting to read your novel?? I consider it reasonable for an author to expect that readers would show loyalty to the books they choose, that they persevere as best they can (unless the novel is intolerable trash). Perhaps, Jeffrey Archer does not hold this view. Or else, he may well have condensed this tale to a more suitable size, say 200 pages. If I were in the position of writer sitting before the fresh page, my inclination would be to tell of the moment of decline in William?s life and have that coincide with the rise of Abel. A brief explanation of their respective backgrounds would suffice. As the book appears, in its published form, I feel patronised. Is Archer suggesting our capacity is insufficient to remember and ponder the significance of character biographies?
If the sole criterion for judging a book?s quality were the reader?s desire to pursue further works from the same author, then I must proclaim Kane And Abel a failure. In fairness, there are other ways and means of determining a book?s worth and some of these categories are fulfilled by Archer. His style of writing is simple, offering a reader clarity of expression. This saving grace underlies my perseverance to the book?s completion, though I suspected its details were already known to me. I was able to read the book quicker because of its simplicity. This gave Kane And Abel the illusory dimension of a thriller, enticing the reader into a page turning frenzy. The plot raises several interesting points about the roles of fate and determination in the operation of one?s life. Playing upon people?s prejudices was a fine idea, but given the length and predictability of the novel this is hard to remember at completion. I take with gratitude the opinions Archer offers in Kane And Abel but remain weary of over-extended novels. To the prospective reader, I suggest you investigate his collections of short stories before plunging into this novel.