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The Intuitionist Essay

1707 words - 7 pages

The Intuitionist, a novel written by Colson Whitehead, illustrates many aspects of society through the parody of a detective novel. Since elevator inspectors have no detective talents, the idea is just a cover, underneath which lies a myriad of the author's opinions on society. The book, published only in the year nineteen-ninety-nine, is filled with miniscule clues that pilot one toward substantial metaphors. Among these are racism, politics, one's place in society, and so on and so forth. This novel is an ocean of allegories in its youth, its depths waiting to be explored.

Whitehead (1969 - present) began writing this manuscript with the idea that he could incorporate an elevator inspector into a mystery novel. In an interview with Dave Weich, he admitted:

[...] I wanted to see if I could write a plot, and a detective story has a lot of real backbone to work with. I thought it would be a parody of a detective novel, having an escalator inspector solve a crime. I'd seen a bit on TV about escalator inspectors and thought, what a weird job. Being in New York, I turned it into elevators instead. (Weich)

Unlike most people that have perambulated this earth, Whitehead decided to actualize his bizarre idea in hopes that it would become a work of art. He declared that he did not expect the novel to acquire this much fame. "It's strange, really," he says of the rate at which his novel gained popularity, "it was a first book, you know? Any notice whatsoever I thought was great" (Weich). Through a great deal of research, Whitehead created a culture of elevator inspectors. This elevator community got so intricate that it included a school, which encompassed two opposing philosophies - Empiricism and Intuitionism, one of the first and most important metaphors that the reader encounters throughout the book.

Identical to today's society, the unnamed metropolis in which the story takes place is split into two factions: those supporting the Empiricists, and those supporting the Intuitionists. The philosophies, although in this book mostly applied to methods of conducting elevator inspections, also pertain to modern society. The Intuitionists base everything on instinct, their doctrine asserting, "[you] don't need to see anything, you just feel it" (Whitehead). This is the more controversial of the two philosophies. Empiricism insists that everything is done by the books and is the more popular of the two among not only the citizens of Whitehead's metropolis, but the world in general. After the mysterious elevator accident, Lila Mae Watson, the main character, is faced with the query of how things should be done and whether she had been right all along by practicing the method of the Intuitionists. Every person faces that decision at some point in their lives. Nobody is born with the knowledge of how they should act, who they should trust, etc. However, in Lila Mae's case these questions have come to an extreme, where she...

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