Imprisonment: it can take many forms, traditional imprisonment in a penitentiary, a non literal form of feeling imprisoned by being impoverished, and the literal form, a concentration camp. But the form that is quite misunderstood and undertaken is imprisonment in literature. Imprisonment in literature can evolve and stem out so many different ways. You could describe the life of a concentration camp victim, to a young boy trapped by his parents in his home, or a young man living up in trees. This form of imprisonment is the most understated form of seeing imprisonment, although many works of literature show us how their characters are imprisoned. Its ironic how a man sitting in a prison will read a novel, or collection of short stories, who might not be in the same situation as him, but understand what is going on to him, that imprisoned protagonist. Tadeusz Borowski and Italo Calvino have masterfully incorporated and portrayed the motif and theme of imprisonment into their works This Way For The Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen and Baron In The Trees respectively, along with enticing and detailed diction, their works make for great literature.
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This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentleman, is written by a Polish Holocaust survivor Tadeusz Borowski, and is the title piece and first story of his collection of short stories. Borowski was not one of the Jews, but a poet who suffered from depression. For this reason, the Nazis had sufficient reason to detain him at Auschwitz and Dachau because he was considered a political prisoner. Borowski’s views toward his fellow prisoners and the Nazis were fairly different than normally seen by concentration camp survivors, mainly because he was not Jewish. According to Karen Bernarda, “it wasn’t that Borowski’s viewed his incarceration in any more positive terms than the Jews with who he was imprisoned with, but he does not seem to be able to separate the prisoners and the Nazis into villains and victims.” In the story, This Way For The Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen, the narrator Tadek, has become a member of a group called “Canada”, which was responsible for rummaging through the Jews individual belongings in search of any hidden treasures they can save. Tadek, however, does in fact know that most or all these people coming off the trains are going to be sent to the gas chambers, and yet decides not tell them this. During this time, however, Tadek feels profound indignity about his job, but he also believes the Jews are the ones responsible for their imprisonment in the concentration camps, and also feels it was the despondent Jews who have destined him to feel ashamed of himself. Borowski says,
” [â€¦] I am furious, simply furious with these people-furious because I must be here because of them. I feel no pity. I am not sorry they’re going to the gas chamber. Damn them all! I could throw myself at them, beat them with my fists.(Borowski 116)”
The unfair argument that Tadek is trying to show is that even the concentration camp prisoners who worked for the Nazis suffered as much as the Jews did, even though they were a*llowed to survive. Bu*t they were also forced to wo*rk for the Nazis which was, for Borowski, even more dehumanizing than being allowed to die. Imprisoned workers were forced to carry dead Jews to the crematorium, as well as witness countless other sickening and despicable acts. Not only is Tadek imprisoned physically, he is imprisoned mentally as well. Just the sheer fact that someone is running your life, and not letting you make your own decisions or choices, makes you feel as though you are an imprisoned slave. If you were not mentally capable of taking this into consideration it was very unlikely that you would have survived in the Holocaust. It took a great deal of mental and physical strength to get through the imprisonment techniques of the Nazi regime.
Set in the peaceful valley of Ombrosa during the period of intellectual and social ferment, Italo Calvino’s The Baron in the Trees relates the story of Cosimo Piovasco di Rondò, along with Cosimo’s brother Biagio, whom is the narrator, provides the history and long standing tension of their family. Cosimo’s father, Baron Arminio, married the General of the War of Succession, Corradina. The Baron, who is “half-mad with a malicious streak”, seems to abuse his children continuously; and while Corradina is fighting in the war on horseback it eventually causes the children to run wild, become crazy, and ultimately not listen to their father. One day, when the Baron invites the Courts of France to lunch at noon, Battista arrives with her new French cuisine meal, snails. When Arminio forces Cosimo to eat the snails, it comes apparent to Cosimo and the reader that he can no longer handle his father’s abuse and yelling. Fleeing from the table and storming out of the house, Cosimo uses his ability to climb up a live oak tree in the backyard. In contrast to This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentleman, Cosimo escaped the imprisonment and harsh antics of his father in order to live a better life. However, Cosimo was entering into another imprisoned lifestyle, one in the trees. Being that Cosimo is imprisoned in the trees, he is deprived of the items, pleasures, and opportunities that lie just beneath him on the ground, This would lead one to the thought that your choice will trap you, whether it be an existential choice or not. Your choice will lead to a different path, a path that has an unpredictable future. Maybe an imprisoned lifestyle is just inevitable. Maybe with every decision you make you are entering more and more into the imprisonment of your own life. Unknowing what will happen in the future, Cosimo jumps out of the trees and into the hot air balloon, he now becomes imprisoned within that hot air balloon for an unknown amount of time.
According to Jessica Page Morrell, “Whatever your themes-abandonment, loneliness, lawlessness, justice, the dangers of seduction-the setting can enhance these concepts.” In This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentleman, Tadeusz Borowski provides the grotesque, inhumane, setting of the Holocaust in order to provide a dual insight to the life of the Jewish and non-Jewish prisoners in the concentration camps. Borowski gives us a brief idea of how isolated these camps were, and how he himself was isolated. Morrell states that “geography and weather are used most often as devices for isolation,” and being that these concentration camps were so far from any type of civilization it is an excellent setting and place for the short stories. Right away Borowski starts his first short story with, “All of us walk around naked. The delousing is finally over, and our striped suits are back from the tanks of Cyclone B solution [â€¦] the heat is unbearable. The camp has been sealed off tight (Borowski 29).” This is a prime example of how setting enhanced the theme of imprisonment all while showing the inhumane and unethical practices used by the Nazis.
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The setting of Baron In The Trees is unvaried throughout the novel, but the main setting would be in the trees. From the trees, Cosimo explained to his brother, he could see the earth more visibly. Free from the dull routine of an earthbound existence, the Baron had fantastic adventures with pirates, women and spies, and still had time to read, and study. Cosimo’s imprisonment, was not bad at all times, he got to enjoy some of the pleasure that people on the ground have the honor of doing. The setting of Baron In The Trees not only enhances the theme of the novel, but it also develops a sense of place that plays “an interactive aspect of the fictional novel that saturates mood and meaning all while making the reader rely on visual and sensory references (Morrell 171).”
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary imprisonment means, to put in or as if in prison; confine, and literature means imaginative or creative writing. When put together, the ideas are implausible; the author takes the reader into a whole other world. This Way For The Gas, Ladies and Gentelmen and Baron in The Trees, are two excellent works of literature which portray the imprisonment of their respective characters exquisitely.
Word Count: 1,454
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