Literary Criticisms On The Waterworks Essay, Research Paper
Literary Criticisms on The Waterworks by E.L. DoctorowLiterary Criticisms (mostly book reviews) on the novel The Waterworks, by E.L. Doctorow focus on different topics. One talks of the author and his style in writing the novel. Another describes Doctorow’s love for New York city, which can be seen throughout the pages of his various novels. There is one that discusses the aspects of Utopia in the novel. Also, “The New Yorker” has an interview with him discussing his work. Ted Solotaroff, in “The Nation”, claims that this novel, which takes place in 1871, serves as a literary link between Hawthorne, Melville and Poe and the post-Civil war figures, such as Twaine, Howells and Crane. The earlier writers are characterized by dark meditative tales and romances, while the later ones wrote realistic stories. Also, the actual writings differed, in that the earlier writings were written in an intensely literary language while the later writings drop a step to incorporate the spoken idiom. Hence, The Waterworks is a link between these two contrasting styles. The narration of the story is told in a straight forward, reportorial fashion. In fact, the narration would have been described by Melville as an “inside narrative” because it’s inhabited by the mind and heart of the narrator. However, the story itself is quite imaginative and murky (Solotaroff 784, 785). One can also see the techniques of Poe in the characters of the story. Edmund Donne, the on honest detective in New York at the time is reminiscent of Poe’s M. Maupin, the first of the gentleman investigators. In this sense Doctorow’s Donne is the sleuth of the democratic future. This again ties together the writings of the pre and post Civil War eras. Dr. Sartorius also plays a role in tying in the two eras. He is a man whom personifies the search for scientific progress for the sole sake of science. He is in fact a man with one foot in his time and one foot in ours, due to his many scientific findings (Solotaroff 786-790). I, of course, do not have the necessary background to give a solid rating of this review. However, Solotaroff does seem to prove his point, and it is a novel concept. I like the idea that Doctorow uses a certain style of writing which is indicative of the time period he is writing about. Walter Goodman in “The New Leader”, chooses to comment on Doctorow’s strong love for New York. In Doctorow’s novels, mainly Ragtime, World’s Fair, and The Book of Daniel, he takes us through the history of New York City. As McIlvaine,the main character, states “The soul of the city was always my subject” (Goodman 35). One can see Doctorow’s affinity for the old city in his writings: “…all at once the block and tackle were raising the marble and granite mansions of Fifth Avenue, and burly cops were wading throughout the stopped traffic on Broadway, slapping horses on the rumps, disengaging carriage wheels, and cursing the heedless entanglements of horsecars, stages, drays, and two-in hands, by which we transported ourselves throughout the business day” (Goodman 35). Goodman goes as far as to exclaim that when Doctorow writes, “You have not seen them [the villains of the story], except in the shadows, or heard them speak, except in the voices of others…they’ve been hiding in my language” he is admitting a creative failure in not developing his villains (Goodman 34, 35). He claims that Doctorow’s most vivid writing is reserved for New York’s underside and could not be matched in all other aspects of the story (Goodman 34, 35).
It is true that Doctorow’s love of New York is easily seen throughout the novel. However, I am in total disagreement with Goodman’s closing statements, that Doctorow had failed in other aspects of the story. Specifically, the quote that Goodman brings describing the villains is misunderstood by him, I believe. I think that Doctorow kept his villains hidden on purpose. This is supposed to give the reader a sense of the events that occurred during that time period. The Tweed Ring was always hidden away, and not out for everyone to see. So too, Doctorow is presenting his villains in the same manner. The theme of a utopia is also quite prevalent in the novel. The wealthy elderly men in the novel have tried to set up a system in which they would live way past their life expectancies. However, in the words of the novel itself it was an “obverse Eden” (DeKoven 68). So the story in fact uses a “characteristic postmodernist narrative” in which it contrasts the “powerful utopian desire and at the same time representing thoroughgoing skepticism concerning the possibility of its fulfillment” (DeKoven 78). In the story, the utopia is related with the urban capitalism and political corruption of its times. As the capitalism and corruption are able to strive, the anti-Eden is able to continue its existence, but as McIlvaine and Donne uncover the corruption the anti-Eden falls apart (DeKoven 75-87). The utopia issue is a fascinating concept. In the post-Civil War era many wrote about it. However, in this story Doctorow shows us the negative aspects of it. He shows us how one cannot truly exist. Humans can only build an “obverse Eden”. And even if they can build one (be it an Eden or not) it will not continue in existence. “The New Yorker” has an actual interview with Doctorow, who comments on many of the topics brought up by the book reviews. As for the common theme of New York in his novels, he replies that it’s nothing he has done intentionaly, but rather something that naturally happened because of the fact that New York is the source of his imagination. He also says that he wrote the book to also make the readers take notice that some of the problems in the novel are no different from that of those that exist today. Some examples of this that he gave are the vagrancy of children and the constant isolation of the rich from others. Doctorow also made an interesting little comment on how he got the inspiration for the novel. He says that on one morning a fog came over the city, covering the World Trade Center, the Woolworth building…the twentieth century. And as he had said to himself “This is Melville’s New York you are looking at!” (The New Yorker 195). I found this article very interesting, in that the reader got to see what the author himself had seen of his novel. The reader gets to see his love of New York, and his throwback to Melville’s times. Although he does not specifically address his feelings on a utopia, it is quite evident from his writing what his thoughts on it are.
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