Motif of violence and aggression in world and polish literature
Motif of violence and
aggression in world and
Mateusz Kusio (17)
Paderwski Private High School
Table of contents:
3. Bible – part II
4. Violence in family
5. Homer, Iliad
6. Homer, Iliad – part II
7. Violence during the war
8. E.A. Poe, The Black Cat
9. Violence coming from addictions
10. H. Sienkiewicz, Janko the Musician
11. Violence towards children
12. J.-K. Huysmans, À rebours
13. J.-K. Huysmans, À rebours – part II
14. Violence towards animals
15. Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain
16. Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain – part II
17. Violence reasoned by prejudices
18. J. Dehnel, Die Schöpfung
19. Autoviolence: suicide
Literature, since when it was invented, has been
depicting a range of everyday life’s aspects. It
hasn’t been focusing only on the bright sides of it.
Writers, from Greek aoides through medieval
troubadours to authors of Modern era, were
having a look into the darkest parts of human
nature frequently. Therefore, atrocities, cruelty,
and depravation are clearly visible in the written
texts from the very beginning of literature in
Bible (ca. IXth – Vth cent. BC)
Genesis, Chapter 4
1 And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have
gotten a man from the LORD.
2 And she again bare his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a
tiller of the ground.
3 And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an
offering unto the LORD.
4 And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the
LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering:
5 But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his
6 And the LORD said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance
7 If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at
the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.
8 And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the
field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.
9 And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not:
Am I my brother's keeper?
Bible – part II
10 And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother's blood crieth
unto me from the ground.
11 And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to
receive thy brother's blood from thy hand;
12 When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her
strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth.
13 And Cain said unto the LORD, My punishment is greater than I can bear.
14 Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from
thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth;
and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me.
15 And the LORD said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance
shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the LORD set a mark upon Cain, lest
any finding him should kill him.
16 And Cain went out from the presence of the LORD, and dwelt in the land of
Nod, on the east of Eden.
(King James Bible)
Violence in family
The Biblical story of Cain and Abel takes
a prominent place in the history of the
European culture. The murder that
occurs in it is caused by jealousy and,
according to theology, is an effect of the
original sin. It shows how cruel a man
can be even towards their relatives.
However, there’s one more aspect
included in the story – forgiveness. It’s a
counterbalance to the story of Adam and
Eve who bore all of the consequences of
their sin. Cain, although ‘dwelt in the
land of Nod’, stays alive and begins a
new life. Violence, even so horrible,
doesn’t kill the men’s soul.
Homer, Iliad (ca. VIIIth cent. BC)
Song XXII – The Death of Hector
Fierce, at the word, his weighty sword he drew,
And, all collected, on Achilles flew.
So Jove’s bold bird, high balanced in the air,
Stoops from the clouds to truss the quivering hare.
Nor less Achilles his fierce soul prepares:
Before his breast the flaming shield he bears,
Refulgent orb! above his fourfold cone
The gilded horse-hair sparkled in the sun.
Nodding at every step: (Vulcanian frame!)
And as he moved, his figure seem’d on flame.
As radiant Hesper shines with keener light,
Far-beaming o’er the silver host of night,
When all the starry train emblaze the sphere:
So shone the point of great Achilles’ spear.
In his right hand he waves the weapon round,
Eyes the whole man, and meditates the wound;
But the rich mail Patroclus lately wore
Securely cased the warrior’s body o’er.
One space at length he spies, to let in fate,
Homer, Iliad – part II
Where ‘twixt the neck and throat the jointed plate
Gave entrance: through that penetrable part
Furious he drove the well-directed dart:
Nor pierced the windpipe yet, nor took the power
Of speech, unhappy! from thy dying hour.
Prone on the field the bleeding warrior lies,
While, thus triumphing, stern Achilles cries:
“At last is Hector stretch’d upon the plain,
Who fear’d no vengeance for Patroclus slain:
Then, prince! you should have fear’d, what now you feel;
Achilles absent was Achilles still:
Yet a short space the great avenger stayed,
Then low in dust thy strength and glory laid.
Peaceful he sleeps, with all our rites adorn’d,
For ever honour’d, and for ever mourn’d:
While cast to all the rage of hostile power,
Thee birds shall mangle, and the gods devour.”
(translation by A. Pope)
Violence during the war
In the Homer’s depiction, war in a
confrontation of two heroes – Achilles
and Hector. Although, Iliad presents
their characters and deeds, the author
didn’t avoid presenting that conflict as
a source of cruelty and suffering.
However Hector’s death is decorated
with much heroism and pathos, its
absurdity is strengthened by Achilles’s
pride (his victory can also be treated
as an unjust one because he attacked
with only uncovered part of Hector’s
body) and an enormous grief of his
mourning family (that scene isn’t
shown in the given fragment). The
death of a hero remains
E.A. Poe, The Black Cat (1843)
One night, returning home, much intoxicated, from one of my haunts about
town, I fancied that the cat avoided my presence. I seized him; when, in his
fright at my violence, he inflicted a slight wound upon my hand with his teeth.
The fury of a demon instantly possessed me. I knew myself no longer. My
original soul seemed, at once, to take its flight from my body; and a more than
fiendish malevolence, gin-nurtured, thrilled every fibre of my frame. I took
from my waistcoat-pocket a pen-knife, opened it, grasped the poor beast by the
throat, and deliberately cut one of its eyes from the socket! I blush, I burn, I
shudder, while I pen the damnable atrocity […].
One day she accompanied me, upon some household errand, into the cellar of
the old building which our poverty compelled us to inhabit. The cat followed
me down the steep stairs, and, nearly throwing me headlong, exasperated me
to madness. Uplifting an axe, and forgetting, in my wrath, the childish dread
which had hitherto stayed my hand, I aimed a blow at the animal which, of
course, would have proved instantly fatal had it descended as I wished. But this
blow was arrested by the hand of my wife. Goaded, by the interference, into a
rage more than demoniacal, I withdrew my arm from her grasp and buried the
axe in her brain. She fell dead upon the spot, without a groan.
Violence coming from addictions
The E.A. Poe’s short story is based on
one major assumption: human
imperfection is the reason for
aggression, not the moral decay. Man’s
alcoholism leads him to lose the control
and to turn into a cruel monster.
Therefore, it’s absolutely necessary to
keep our minds clear, so that we are able
to be the master of our will. Only self-
consciousness and self-reflection at
every single moment gives us capability
not to behave like the story’s main
character. Everyone is able to kill and
murder, if they don’t mind the restraints.
H. Sienkiewicz, Janko the Musician (1879)
Stach nooded his stupid, animal-like head, took Janko under his arm as if
he was a small kitty and took him out to the small barn. Child either did not
understand what’s going on or got scared, anyway, he didn’t speak any
word, was just watching, as if a bird was watching. Does he knew, what they
would do to him? Just after Stach lied him down on the barn’s ground,
pulled his shirt up, wielded with a twig, and then Janko shouted:
‘Mummy!’ and every time Stach wielded, he shouted, ‘Mummy! Mummy!’
but quiter and with weaker voice, and finally the child got silent and didn’t
shout for his mummy anymore.
Poor, shattered fiddle!
Ah, you stupid, bad Stach! This way is beating children? Oh, he was small
and weak and always barely living.
The mother came, took the boy but she had to took him home… On the
second day Janek didn’t woke up, and in the third evening he was already
dying calmly on the bed by a coarse kilim carpet.
Violence towards children
Sienkiewicz’s novella was one of those that
were putting the ideals of social
development into the Polish society of late
XIXth century when persecuting children
physically was commonly accepted. The
author has broken these conventionalities
and showed how cruel we are by treating
children that way. We punish children
beating them or even maltreat them because
we want them to behave according to the
rules prevailing among adults that children
simply aren’t able to understand as they
need to be brought up first. A child is not a
smaller version of an adult, it belongs to „a
completely different reality”. If we violate it,
we will damage the whole society.
J.-K. Huysmans, À rebours (1884)
This turtle was the result of a whim that had suddenly occurred to Des
Esseintes a short while before his leaving Paris. Looking one day at an Oriental
carpet with iridescent gleams of colour and following with his eyes the silvery
glints that ran across the web of the wool, the colours of which were an opaque
yellow and a plum violet, he had told himself: it would be a fine experiment to
set on this carpet something that would move about and the deep tint of which
would bring out and accentuate these tones.
Possessed by this idea, he had strolled at random through the streets; had
arrived at the Palais-Royal, and in front of Chevet’s window had suddenly
struck his forehead, — a huge turtle met his eyes there, in a tank. He had
bought the creature; then, once it was left to itself on the carpet, he had sat
down before it and gazed long at it, screwing up his eyes.
Alas! there was no doubt, the negro-head hue, the raw sienna tone of the shell
dimmed the sheen of the carpet instead of bringing out the tints; the dominant
gleams of silver now barely showed, clashing with the cold tones of scraped
zinc alongside this hard, dull carapace.
J.-K. Huysmans, À rebours – part II
He gnawed his nails, searching in vain for a way to reconcile these
discordances, to prevent this absolute incompatibility of tones. At last he
discovered that his original notion of lighting up the fires of the stuff by the to-
and-fro movements of a dark object set on it was mistaken; the fact of the
matter was, the carpet was still too bright, too crude, too new-looking. Its
colours were not sufficiently softened and toned down; the thing was to reverse
the proposed expedient, to deaden the tints, to stifle them by the contrast of a
brilliant object that should kill everything round it, casting the flash of gold
over the pale sheen of silver. Thus looked at, the problem was easier to solve.
Accordingly he resolved to have his turtle’s back glazed over with gold. […]
He sprang up to break the horrid nightmare of his thoughts, and coming back
to everyday matters, began to feel anxious about the turtle.
It still lay quite still; he touched it, it was dead. Accustomed no doubt to a
sedentary life, an uneventful existence spent under its humble carapace, it had
not been able to support the dazzling splendour imposed on it, the glittering
garment in which it had been clad, the pavement of precious stones wherewith
they had inlaid its poor back like a jewelled pyx.
Violence towards animals
Huysmans’s À rebours (Against Nature) is
said to be the bible of the decadent
movement in the late XIXth century. The
main character of the novel, diuc Des
Esseintes, loses himself in depravity and
fulfils all of his own wishes, even the most
eccentric ones. The fragment given before
shows us the truth about the dark aspect of
man – animal relationship. We often think
that pets and wild animals are only a
decoration. We possess them not in order to
give them home, warmth and protection but
to pamper ourselves. They’re treated like
toys we can easily play with or take apart.
We behave violently towards the world of
other living beings because of the lack of our
consciousness and sensitivity.
Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain (1924)
Some thirty-year- old man, a merchant formerly, having a fever for ages, who
had been travelling from one nursing home to another, became a member of
Berghof’s society since some time. He was an adversary of Jews, an anti-Semite
because of fundamental reasons and for fun, with a joyful obduracy- that
adamant negation was the pride and essence of his life. He used to be a
merchant formerly, he stopped to work in this way, in fact, he wasn’t anything
but remained an anti- Semite. He was ill very seriously, was suffering from
hard cough, sometimes he seemed sometimes to sneeze with his lungs sharply,
shortly, one time and incredibly. However, he wasn’t a Jew and that was his
only positive feature. His name was Wiedemann, it was a Christian name, it
wasn’t impure. He subscribed to Aryan candle magazine and used to give
speeches like the following:
‘I come to sanatorium X in A... city. I just want to find a place in the room with
deckchairs - I see - who lies on the deckchair on the left? Mr. Hirsch! And who
on the right? Mr. Wolf! Of course, I’ve left immediately,’ and so on. [...]
Inner circumstances we are sketching out intensified the abnormal attitude of
this man extremely; and because also here he was to meet people having the
defect he, Wiedemann, was free of, a hideous scene took place under the
influence of those circumstances Hans Castorp was an eye witness to and
served to us as a further example of moods talked over.
Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain – part II
Among the guests, there was a man who doesn’t have to be unmasked, his case
was clear. His name was Sonnenschein and because man can’t have any other
so repulsive name, therefore the person of Sonnenschein became that object
hanging down from Wiedemann’s nose he was squinting at and hitting, not to
push it away but to make it swaying and get annoyed more and more. […]
That was a horrendous and pathetic sight. They were fighting like small boys
but with passion of adults who are decided to go all lengths. They were
ploughing their faces with each other’s nails, grabbing each other’s noses and
throats, beating each other with their fists, rolling on the ground with fearful
and biggest seriousness in tight clasp, spitting each other on, treading and
kicking, tussling and whacking one another with froth out of their mouths.
Finally, the workers of sanatorium’s office came running and separated
infuriated and bitter enemies with difficulty. Hair of Wiedemann who was
streaming with blood and saliva, with disorientation on his face, stood on end.
Hans Castorp hasn’t seen that phenomenon yet and hasn’t believed in its
abilities. Wiedemann’s hair bristled on his head and was standing so, straight
and stiff, when he ran out of the room, while Sonnenschein, with swollen eyelid
and bloody gap in the wreath of black curly hair surrounding his skull, was
seen to the office where he dropped on a chair, weeping bitterly, with face
buried in his hands.
Violence reasoned by prejudice
The scene from The Magic Mountain
could be seen as a prophecy. It’s a very
clear presentation of what can happen
if stereotypes and prejudice, which
almost always give birth to hostility
and hatred, take the floor. That scene
is clearly associated with Holocaust.
Consequently, tolerance and, what’s
more, pluralism and candour are the
ways of escaping the vicious circle of
aggression and vengeance. Only if we
accept others as they are (of course,
excluding the acceptance of obvious
evil) and are willing to have a dialogue
with them, we can create a better
society, and fulfil a post-war promise
expressed in the words ‘Never again.’
J. Dehnel, Die Schöpfung (2007)
[…] passing irritably from one room to another, recalling a sentence read once
in some dissertation in the field of forensic pathology – the sentence about the
test cuts a desperado makes on the skin of wrists while being not bent on the
final, deep strokes with a razor, knife, sliver of glass and at the same time trying
not to leave those humililating signs of weakness - but no, ineffectively, and
then strolling with barely bleeding wrists and leaving red drops on the table’s
top, on the sofa’s upholstery, on the floors not waxed from a long time, while
pondering over a proper formulation, and then searching the medicine
cupboard – and those red drops everywhere – and pouring water into a glass –
but, no – a cup, must go to the cupboard and take one of those low, broad ones
– God, what a mess to be tidied – and then, while pouring a cognac for special
occassions because isn’t it a special occassion – and then, choking and snorting,
spitting out the pills on the carpet and gathering then and one more time, that
time with water and then waiting and waiting – it has just clotted and crumbles
like rust – and then approaching the window but falling down in half of the
way, grabbing the courtains’ hem, knocking it off on the floor with a rail,
Michael son of Paul, son of Karl, son of Ludwig, son of Moses took his life, as he
faced the archangel.
Suicide is commonly understood as escaping
a situation that overwhelms an individual and
with which they cannot cope adequately. It’s
not solving the problem, it’s more like
hushing it up. A problem of a character from
the short story has two aspects. The first one
is that he hides his Jewishness (the story
takes place in Vienna, 1942). The second one
is his unfulfilled (from obvious reasons) love
to one of the soloists of Vienna State Opera.
Suicide itself seems to be the most horrifying
example of violence. It’s not caused by bad
character’s features or lack of self-control.
The reason for it is being aware of the tragical
conditions we’ve been placed in. It’s like being
too conscious about one’s weakness .
• Dehnel J., Rynek w Smyrnie, Warszawa 2007
• Mann T., Czarodziejska góra, vol. II, Warszawa 1965
• Sienkiewicz H., Nowele wybrane, Warszawa 1969