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The Validity Of Henry Miller's Radical Pacifism In Tropic Of Cancer

2771 words - 11 pages

It is hardly reasonable to expect a man who will forgo employment that allows such benefits like the necessity of food to attend to the needs of a war. Yet some people criticized Henry Miller because he did not take action; he hardly discussed the war in Tropic of Cancer; and, in their opinion, it is his moral obligation as a citizen-writer to address it. However, Miller is defensible only because his “mind is on the peace treaty all the time” (Miller, 143). The silence about the war in the novel suggests a stance of “extreme pacifism,” which is defensible because of his autobiographical honesty about his radical individualism and the artistic intent to describe the beauty of keeping in touch with humanity in spite of eventual annihilation (Orwell, 1 ).
Miller’s passive attitude toward the war has been described by Orwell as “a declaration of irresponsibility” because Miller acts in a way to of “extreme pacifism, an individual refusal to fight, with no apparent wish to convert others to the same opinion” (Orwell, 1). Orwell shows he senses irresponsibility in Miller’s point of view because Miller exclaimed it was “sheer stupidity” to “mix oneself up in such things from a sense of obligation” if there were no “purely selfish motives” in a conversation he had with him (Orwell, 1). The endorsement of “selfish” demonstrates Miller’s “individualism,” because he’s not expecting anyone to be anything more than a rational egoist, or someone who has acts to “maximize one’s self-interest” [1]. Furthermore, his refusal to “mix oneself up” shows the passivity in his stance; it shows how he “hardly wishes to control” the “world-process” (Orwell, 1). The war is also a force that is outside one man’s control. Orwell also gets the impression that Miller believes in an “approaching cataclysm,” so the time spent trying to change something that is going to end regardless is time wasted (Orwell, 1).
Miller’s friend and sometimes-lover Anais Nin also observed his response to the war. The most she could say about it was that his “anarchism is excited” (Nin, 176). “Excited” can be taken to mean he is even more vehemently anarchist, even more vehemently freedom-oriented. “Working obsessionally” on his book The Air-Conditioned Nightmare reflects his “excitement,” especially because it is evident just based on the title alone that he is responding to the expectations of society that could be too constraining. These are the only two mentions of Miller in Nin’s diary that day, and it’s clear that she believes his impassioned writing is a result of the political atmosphere.
Miller’s position is in great contrast to other modernist writers who responded to the war, such as Gertrude Stein, Hemingway, and Orwell. Stein’s biographical/autobiographical novel The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas places special emphasis on the war. The most action happens in the war chapter, as well as the most character growth. In it, the novel switches emphasis from the sense of...

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