Historical Perbiographical Literary Analysis Jerzy Kosinski S The Painted Bird
A major question has been asked. Every one person who comes into grasps of The Painted Bird by Jerzy Kosinski has asked the same question either aloud or in their mind; what that message Kosinski desires to convey is. The sole purpose of a literary criticism is to get to the bottom of the text to discover what the message conveyed by the author is. The best way to do so is to have knowledge of the author’s life and experiences because having that knowledge leads to the deeper comprehension and interpretation of the literary work. An author’s experiences along with other factors are usually what prompts the writer to write in the very beginning and is what usually shapes his or her writing. This essay will analyze factors in Kosinski’s life that played a role in why The Painted Bird is written in the style that it is. Growing up as a Polish child refugee during the post war, the effect that it has on him, and the reason why he used exaggerations in his novel will be discussed throughout this essay along with an author analysis.
Kosinski, a famous author of the 1960’s through the late 70’s born in Poland on June 14, 1933 in Lodz, Poland to a Russian-Jewish father, a scholar and mother, a concert pianist. Kosinski greets America in 1957. He then married an American heiress a few years before he became known for his best selling piece of American literature The Painted Bird. There is not a lot documented on the youth of Kosinski due to the fact that he did a lot of changing addresses and name changing. What is portrayed about his childhood comes through The Painted Bird, the protagonist in the novel is assumed to be Kosinski, an assumption that he did not clarify due to the fact that there
was no dialogue in the entire novel. If indeed Kosinski is the protagonists in the novel it is almost clear as to why he views life the way he does.
It is explained that many authors from or near the same cultural background and upbringing during the war as Kosinski wrote about their troubled times trying to grow up in a world of war and them being a target and an outcast. Exile, identity, and the power of language all are aspects (themes) portrayed in the novel that suggest metaphors for guilt in the Jewish culture (Abstract from Author). While reading the novel the very first page explains that the boy, possibly Kosinski is sent away although for his safety he sent somewhere unknown to him and he is alone. Because of the “olive” color in his skin he is immediately placed as an outsider. This justifies why Kosinski believes that one can only believe in self-existence. In an interview Kosinski admits that he does not was to be seen.
I didn’t want to meet my audience, or know it in any way; I just wanted to manipulate a part of myself. (Plimpton and Landesman 27)
What that quote expresses is the idea that he can only believe in his own self, he does not want or need to know the existence of anyone else. The purpose is to manipulate one’s own self; to be something different. “Poetry after Auschwitz: Emotion and Culture in Fictional Representations of the Holocaust”, suggest that the existence of the protagonist in The Painted Bird is unimportant to the world as one small child. Throughout the novel the boy was never a priority to anyone, as it seems he is not even a priority to his own parents who lose contact of him before a year even passes by. It also states that many surviving Jews of the Holocaust have the feeling of guilt and shame that they are survivors. (pp.3) Kosinski’s purpose of writing this novel could indeed be expressing his knowledge of the Nazi Holocaust because he was one of the surviving children. Ironically he has mentioned the phrase “unspeakable horror” or “horror” more than once, but they were not connected to the Holocaust; the horror(s) witnessed are of
brutal or embarrassing acts on or from the Polish peasants. Perhaps he did not tell the horrors of the Holocausts’ in specifics because he truly did not witness any of the acts that happen.
Another question to ask is throughout the novel who is the hero, the one person that the protagonist looks to for guidance? “Poetry after Auschwitz” states that in order for the hero to survive he must bear the traits of courage, imagination, strength and dedication, all of which are qualities generally required to achieve a goal. (pp.5) In The Painted Bird, Kosinski portrays the protagonists as a child who merely is very sneaky and vulnerable to the first sign of affection.
Ewka, the only character in the novel who shows the boy any affection besides a possible smile or some nurture is also the same woman who corrupts his body and his mind.
I clung to Ewka in my dreams, seizing her like a spider, entwining as many legs around her as a centipede has. I grew into her body like a small twig, grafted on a broad-limbed apple tree by a skillful gardener. (Kosinski pp.147)
I think Kosinski goes into so much depth into the relationship between Ewka and the protagonist because their relationship is sexual. The boy is young and with the mindset of being alone all of the time unloved and ignorant to many things, her affection gives him a glimpse at reality. Besides the fact that the boy is alone, he cannot speak, which hinders him from expression. It is ironic that at the moment the boy’s voice is lost it is at the same time that he desires to “cry out”.
Suddenly I realized that something had happened to my voice. I tried to cry out, but my tongue flapped helplessly in my mouth. I had no voice. I was terrified and, covered with cold sweat; I refused to believe that this was possible and try to
convince myself that my voice would come back. I waited a few moments and tried again. Nothing happened. The silence of the forest was broken only by the buzzing of the flies around me. (Kosinski pp.140)
Another big question I ask is why the novel is written completely in narrative form, having no dialogue at all; not even the telephone call at the end of the last chapter. For there to be no dialogue in the novel it keeps the audience constantly involved in the novel. In my opinion it gives the audience a chance to become any of the characters and imagine whatever it is they can say or whatever the may be thinking.
Jewish people are known for their tendency to be vocal; Kosinski seems to be the complete opposite. Even in the novel he continuously leaves the reader at a stand still, having to figure out what exactly is going on in his head and why certain things have happened. The biggest question of all is what exactly made the protagonist lose his voice, why did it come back, and who was the person on the other end of the telephone line? These questions are left purposely by Kosinski in order to keep grasp of his audience’s attention.
Identity played a big role in the novel. The young boy having to hide himself because of what he looks like and what his ethnicity is a constant reminder of how much being different was a bad thing. Throughout the novel the protagonists is beaten, battered, and shunned away because of his dark skin. The idea of him being tortured for his difference or used as an animal or tool is a metaphor of how the captured Jews were tortured for being different from someone else.
Constantly the boy in the novel is accused of being a ‘Gypsy’, always being warned to not casts spells on an innocent by-stander and being used for powers that are unknown to the growing child confuses him of what his identity truly is. The fact that the novel begins while the boy is only six years old explains that he could have no idea of faith or what his true identity really is, all he knows is that he is not welcome and that he needs to find his mother and father whom left him with a ski instructor for sake of his safety from the Nazi’s. Reflecting back to what is stated in the article “Poetry after Auschwitz: Emotion and Culture in Fictional Representation of the Holocaust”, authors who usually write about events during the Holocaust
“hid their identities as children and grew to disavow their homelands, to live abroad and work in foreign languages (Neile 10).” Identity is a major importance is a beings life. Kosinski portrays the young boy to have a lot of knowledge about what he used to be and what he used to belong to. Growing up alone for about six years from the age of six to twelve leaves an affect on someone, it leaves him with a lot of curiosity and very vulnerable.
Many still believe that the novel The Painted Bird is an autobiography about Jerzy Kosinski’s life, when reality it is a novel about exaggerated events in a mans life, possibly his, that expresses a value of self existence. The whole purpose of this paper is to come to understanding on why Kosinski wrote the novel the way he did, try to convey what the message is in the novel and what it means.
After the thought that the novel was written in false pretense, Kosinski was accused of being an “ultimate literary trickster” There was an interview of Kosinski given by George Plimpton who in my opinion really gets a good look at what Kosinski’s thoughts are about how to express emotions and events in a novel. This interview in my opinion gives a lot of reason and answers to questions asked. Before the interview is discussed there are questions that need to be asked in order to interpret the mind of Kosinski. As the audience reads the book the attention is grasped event after event. There is never a dull moment or a moment of peace and tranquility in the novel except once and that is when the boy is alone for a moment in the winter. Even then it is not true peace because he still trying to survive against the peasants of Poland and the Nazi. The most exciting and thrilling thing that made the protagonists lively is the rush of laying on railroad tracks and letting the carts run over them.
Despite these grim recollections, there was something immensely tempting about lying between the rails with a train running above. In the moments between the passing of the locomotive and the last car I felt within me life as pure milk
carefully strained through a cloth. During the short time when the carriages roared over one’s body, nothing mattered except the simple fact of being alive. I would forget everything: the orphanage, my muteness, Gavrila, the Silent One. I found at the very bottom of this experience the great joy of being unhurt. (Kosinski 218)
That passage expresses so much emotion of the excitement of life for the first time throughout the entire novel. The protagonist is constantly faced with so many dangers and abuse that in the passage the thought of actually dying and surviving gives the boy a huge rush. Kosinski portrays this event as surprising to the protagonist because he is always beaten and wants to disappear or no longer be alive, in the predicaments that he is in.”The Art of Fiction XLVI-Jerzy Kosinski” discusses an analytical part of Kosinski. The questions asked in the interview mark certain ideas of Kosinski that tell the reader about he likes to express situations, and what he believes in; which greatly reflects why he wrote The Pained Bird the way it is written. Kosinski admits that “what we remember lacks the hard edge of fact. (Plimpton Landesman 24)”, is pertaining to The Painted Bird.
To help us along we create little fictions, highly subtle and individual scenarios which clarify and shape our experience. The remembered event becomes a fiction, a structure made to accommodate certain feelings. This is obvious to me. If I weren’t for these structures, art would be too personal for the artist to create, much less for the audience to grasp. Even film, the most literal of all arts, is edited. (Plimpton Landesman 25)
The idea that using our past experiences and creating fictions within them in order to accommodate certain feelings toward a situation explains why there were no happy situations in the novel, the whole idea of the novel is to express the pain, wonder, and emptiness inside a young
boy who is trying to survive on his own. The need to express serenity in the novel would be ridiculous and very much unnecessary, it would take away from the reader’s remorse for the young boy and it would give false hope also.
In the novel the narrator refers to reaction in a most peculiar way. The protagonists grows to believe that a man should take revenge for every wrong done to him and to decide on the appropriate act of revenge and amount of force used on how painful the cause was to a man. This is interesting because in the interview with Kosinski, he states that “If you—or anyone else—had been surrounded by it for years, you’d perceive it also as human, natural—and expected. You get used to it. A needle or the sight of blood may be as terrifying to a North Dakotan as a bomb is to a Vietnamese (Plimpton and Landesman 25)”. Kosinski continually expresses that situations and predicaments only matter in one’s own opinion. What one believes is all that matters. Depending on how one feels about certain situations is how good or bad a situation may be. That brings us back to the fact that Kosinski grew to believe in only self-existence. And the novel is based simply on self-existence and being alone.
Throughout the novel the narrator refers to many things as horrifying, brutal, or horrible. As the protagonist grows he comes into contact with many different types of individuals; some who take him in and some who shun him away. The horrors in the novel although not based on the Holocausts solely are horrible to the protagonists because of his morale. Kosinski states that matters of things being out of the ordinary are based on one’s own experience and for all the situations the boy went through not too many things can be out of the ordinary if used in Kosinski’s definition.
The idea of sex is mentioned in the novel, more than once, and the situations that were expressed in the novel were of molestation and of out of the ordinary types of sexual activities.
When the boy is introduced to sex, it is in reality an act of molestation on Ewka’s part in the novel but to the young boy, who has had no affection it is taken as emotion, it is introduced to him as him being of importance in satisfying a woman he grows to think he loves. In Jerzy Kosinski: A Biography, author James Sloan says that Kosinski after growing into a man and moving to America became very active in sexual escapades, “he quickly acquired a taste for sexual appetites”. In a psychological aspect of this part of Kosinski’s life and the novel coincide, it makes much sense psychologically that a man introduced to sexual activities at such an early age somewhat becomes addicted to it. It becomes the norm to desire and hunger for sexual satisfaction.
Kosinski designed his novel to be as “unobtrusive as possible”, he did not want to dwell on things he wanted the reader to be attracted to the dramatic scenes throughout the novel. He believed that if one can retrieve one fragment of reality they are lucky; his vision demands the language he uses. So he wrote the novel The Painted Bird as well as others in a manner of whatever popped into his mind he would then write it out on paper. This style of writing is an Eastern European style of writing the Kosinski adopts and in my opinion it is a style that creates a lot of imagination from the author to write at moments in time instead of forcing himself to write at certain times and in certain circumstances.
The message(s) declared in the novel The Painted Bird is the fact that only the self –exists and that reality is only your own reality. No one person knows themselves to a full extent but they know themselves by their actions and reactions in their past experiences. Kosinski is such a magnificent writer that he knows exactly how to draw the audience attention through his own personal self. Kosinski illustrated a certain vision throughout the novel, not by literally giving visual effect but by choosing certain predicaments that happened in his life and dramatizing the situations for the reader to use their own imagination to evoke the situation.
Kosinski dwells on the power of the imagination as a writer, he depends on the reader to use their own imagination equally to get the full effect of what he is trying to express. Reading has a more powerful outcome on one’s mind due to own visualization and recognition; a reader will connect the character in a novel to themselves in some type of way to interpret their situations. The idea that The Painted Bird is based on the life of Kosinski as a child trying to find a way of living has proven to be true, although the novel is not a complete reflection of his childhood it is an exaggeration of it. Instead of writing an autobiography on himself he used the fictional side of literature to capture the drama that occurred in those six years of his life adding additional dramas, exaggerating situations, and even falsifying some facts of his life. It is evident through the interviews and knowledge of Kosinski that the dramas in his past had a great affect on him as an adult in America. It has been repeated many times through Kosinski that self-existence is the only truth to one being. In the end of the interview between Kosinski and Plimpton, he is asked does he always expect the worst; Kosinski replies by saying only the expected. That attitude reflects the idea of being through so much and experiencing being let down so many times that he no longer expects anything, he just accepts whatever may happen. Kosinski lives for yesterday, not today or tomorrow; which is a reflection of reality; no one knows what is expected one only knows what has happened by their own experience.