Misfortunate misdirections: Literature in Translation

IB Examiners of components that involve works in translation become familiar with the most frequently included works.  And those works, among a few others, are Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, Camus’ The Outsider, Kafka’s The Metamorphosis and Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  What follows are some of the most common ways in which students head in less than productive directions as they choose to develop topics or responses involving these works.

A Doll’s House:  One of the most common misinterpretations of Nora is that she is only a hopelessly naive woman at the beginning of the play who transforms, in miraculously brief time, into the character in Act 3 who clearly knows her own mind, and proceeds to dramatically overturn the marital conventions and slams the door on them.  Students need to understand Nora as the clever woman that she is, in spite of her doubts, fears and legal misunderstandings, and that she is quite capable, in her own self-interest,  of taking a daring action to save her husband’s health.  That simultaneously she allows her husband to believe she is exactly the image of her that he displays with his condescending pet names and  patriarchal attitude is sometimes not grasped by candidates.

The Outsider:  There is no question that students find in Meursault the kind of man they may never have encountered and believe that understanding him comes down to a ‘portrait of an existentialist.’  The knowledge of existentialist ideas revealed in the way students write about that in relation to the novel is often quite superficial, and the approach to Meursault frequently an exercise in proving how he fits a set of perceived characteristics.  It might be interesting to use a more inductive approach to the novel where students explore it with existentialist ideas in abeyance until they have grappled with what they perceive, on their own, ‘makes Meursault work.’

The Metamorphosis: Perhaps the overriding inclination of students, once they have learned a little about Kafka himself, is to align the two, Franz Kafka and Gregor Samsa, making the story of the latter a reproduction of the former’s life.  Certainly there are some valid conjectures that can be made in this regard, but the problem is, that for young scholars, the pursuit of these similarities tends to be a dead end with regard to writing critically about the novel as a piece of art.

Chronicle of a Death Foretold:   As is the case with both Camus and Kafka, Garcia Marquez in this work creates some significant subtleties of tone and intent, many of which escape the youthful reader. Misdirections in relation to this novel tend to be many, and perhaps some can be grouped under the heading of simplistic reduction.  Magical realist techniques, cultural phenomena such as ‘marianismo’ and ‘machismo,’ Christ figure allusions all hold some relevance to the novel, but as far as possible IB students need particularly to be made aware of the subtle tongue-in-cheek handling of such aspects of these by the author.

Finally, it needs to be said that with all four works, there are students who offer very good essays and responses, but teachers need to be alert when they include these texts that they offer solid guidance to their classroom examination of the works, as well as the topics and approaches students choose when they write about them.

Comments are closed.