John Gardner: Contribution as American Novelist

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      John Champlin Gardner Jr. (1933-1982) born in Batavia, New York, had taught Medieval Literature and creative writing at various American universities. The Resurrection (1966) the first novel, is set in ancient Sparta and presents a seer Agathon, and his companion, Demodokos who have been imprisoned and engaged in a dialogue concerning individual freedom and the civil restraint. His second novel Grendel is the most praised book of fiction from a fanning background in New York State. He was the most important spokesperson for ethical values in literature. Until his death in a motor cycle accident, he was a professor of English, specializing in the medieval period his most popular novel Grendel (1971) retells the old English epic Beowulf from the monster’s existentialist point of view. What emerges from this extraordinary tale is the revelation that Grendel is dispensable to the civilizing forces of science and arts. He is of the brute existence on which the human beings depend for their definition of themselves. A source of power for humanity Grendel is also the source of power for the book. It does not confirm with his own views of art. The short, vivid, and often comic novel is a subtle argument against the existentialism that fills its protagonist with self-destructive despair and cynicism.

      The prolific and popular novelist Gardner used a realistic approach but employed innovative techniques within stories, retelling of myths, and contrasting stories—to bring out the truth of a human situation. His strengths are characterization, (particularly he is sympathetic portraits of ordinary people) and colorful style. In the middle phase, he wrote novels like, Freddy’s Book (1980), The Tempation Game (1980) and Mickelsson’s Ghosts (1982). His major works include The Resurrection (1966) The Sunlight Dialogues, (1972), Nickel Mountain (1973) and October Light (1976). Gardener’s first collection of short fiction was The King’s Indian Stories and Tales (1976). Gardner’s fictional patterns suggest the curative powers of fellowship, duty and family obligations, and in decency. Gardner was a profoundly traditional and conservative author. He endured to demonstrate certain values and acts that led to fulfilling fives. The Art of Living and other Stories (1981) is early collection of short stories. He wrote three collections of short stories and three collections of fairy tales for children. He also published a volume of poems with the title Poems (1978).

      His book On Moral Fiction (1978) calls for novels that embody ethical values rather than dazzle with empty technical innovations. He says - “Art does not imitate life, art makes people do things...if we celebrate bad values in our arts, we are going to have a bad society.” As the title of re-work suggests, Gardner was nominally far from such moral relativism. The book created furor, largely because Gardner bluntly criticized important living authors for failing to reflect ethical concerns. He may have been suspicious of post-modernism and keen to give his work a moral dimension. Ironically, his finest character and narrator is irredeemably, necessarily a moral. His best work is his best precisely because it has voiced a post-modern age.

      Asian Americans are also taking their place on the scene. Maxine Hong Kinston (The Woman Warrior, 1976) carved out a place for her fellow Asian Americans, among them Amy Tan, whose luminous novels of the Chinese life transposed to a post-World War II America (The Joy Luck Club, 1989), The Kitchen God’s Wife (1991), has captivated readers. David Henry Hwang, a California born son of Chinese immigrants, has made his mark in drama, with plays such as FOB (1981) and M. Butterfly (1986). A relatively new group on the literary horizon is the Hispanic - American writers, including the Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Oscar Hijuelos, the Cuban born author of The Mambo King’s Play Songs of Love (1989), short story writer, Sandra Cisneros, Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories (1991) and Rudolfo Anaya, author of Bless Me, Ultima (1972) which sold three lakh copies, mostly in the western United States.

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