Heller’s work constitutes a scenery line of black humor which never fades. In text, his language seemingly digresses miles high, but shows a highly logic behind the ridiculous reason. He makes serious things be expressed in laughing, which makes the tragicomedy form a huge language high tension in his works, and shows the profound language accomplishments and superb humor skills. At this case, this paper will start from the background of black humor of Heller to analyze the black humor in Heller’s novel creation, so as to make a reference for the further research.
Creation Background of Black Humor of Heller.
Joseph Heller was born in a Jewish family in 1923, and Heller’s father emigrated to the Jewish residential area in the United States with two children as a result of political reasons. After graduating from high school, Heller acted as a small staff in an insurance company, and the rules of life made him reappear the alienation of Slocum’s way of life in his second novel «Something Happened». In 1942, Heller joined the United States Air Force, but which is not out of loyalty to the country’s mission, but to touch the vital interests of high wages, security and the respect to the military occupation from the outside world. This confused the young Heller, making him temporarily deviated from the pursuit of the ideal life. Heller was seriously injured when he performed the thirty-seventh mission, and Heller suddenly realized that his life was under threat. The suspicion of his own security triggered Heller to look at the real situation behind the aura.
After retiring, Heller entered the University of Southern California and New York University to study further. After graduating from college, Heller transferred to Columbia University to pursue a master’s degree in literature. During this period, Heller went on to study Milton, Joe and Shakespeare, but he failed to find his way through the study of classical literature, and then he put a lot of energy into the creation of short stories. During this period, the literary creation of most writers was influenced by Hemingway and Erwin Shaw, and Heller’s imitation object was Hemingway.
The short stories «Nothing To Be Done» wrote by Heller in 1948 takes Hemingway’s short story as reference, the style, environment and atmosphere of «The Killer» is exactly the same with Hemingway. Heller admits that, since 1945, his short stories, which he created, are a copy of others, and not from his personal experience to the creation, but after the writing pattern of others. By 1950, Heller’s imitation had come into a hopeless situation, and he couldn’t express himself through the articles, and arouse the reader’s sympathy. So far, Heller abandoned imitation and turned to give birth to his own style of writing.
Heller is famous for «black humor». This style of writing developed rapidly with an unstoppable momentum in the history of American literature in the sixties of the 20th century, affecting a large number of talented youth literature. Heller shows the real life being filled with selfish, greed, hypocrisy, deceit, tyranny, cruelty, sexual and crazy in the absurd writing form. The success of «Catch 22» makes Heller really set foot on the road of writing.
Black Humor in Heller’s Novel Creation.
Theory of Black Humor.
In March 1965, Friedman compiled a short story with 12 writer’s works, entitled «black humor», the term «black humor» resulting. «Black humor» highlights the description of oppression of individual characters from the world and absurd society around them, and shows his helpless mocking attitude on the uncoordinated world. At the same time, he also makes this a kind of disharmonious phenomenon to be enlarged, distorted and deformed, making them more absurd, sliding comical, and making people feel heavy and depressed. Therefore, some critics calls «black humor», «gallows humor», «disaster humor», «pain of humor», «desperate humor» and so on.
Black Humor in Heller’s Novel Creation.
Literary circles «Catch-22» and «Something Happened» as a division of Heller’s creation of watershed. Most of his later works reflect the Jewish culture. Heller’s «Catch-22» is regarded as a classic of black humor, as a matter of fact, and the humorous language form of Heller’s Catch-22 is affected deeply by the Jewish culture in his blood.
Jewish culture tradition has a strong sense of humor in Jewish, including self-deprecating. The laughter in the Jewish humor is more than a tragedy. From their experience of suffering, there is little laughter in their lives, which implies the evaluation of academic circles in black humor — Bitter humor.
But black humor is far more than just staying on the surface of the language game. In the second part of the Heller novel «Something Happened», the contradiction is not only staying in the external affairs, but through the inner and humorous language of the characters to reflect the author’s contradictions. The formation of Heller’s unique and humorous language style is from the beginning of this novel. This novel makes the odd psychology of hero Slocum as prologue, making the tension of Slocum in front of the readers through the distorting mirror of language. Then, the protagonist explains why he is so tense: «perhaps that day: because of throat pain, high fever, I unexpectedly came home early and caught my parents lying on the bed, making me have a feeling of fear. I am afraid to open the door, and also suspect the closed door...... I remember one thing, and now I think it’s strange, because it’s something that happened a long time ago. It was a hot summer day, I have nothing to do to go into the old wooden houses of our home after the red brick apartment, and found my brother and the little sister of Billy Foster lying on the ground together...» Slocum amusingly explained the source of his fear and concealed his inner cowardice with the self-deprecating manner, and he made the cause of disorder to pile in front of the reader, so as to try to defuse the evaluation of his cowardice from the consensus in his mind. His explanation increased constantly, even at the end of Chapter 1 readers produced resonance and sympathy unexpectedly involuntarily to Slocum.
Heller makes the query from the social consensus to the foundation of United States, which they are proud of — American dream. 300 years ago, when the England immigrants crossed the Atlantic to Maryland by the «May flower», looking for a piece of «pure land» the pilgrims can live in, the «American Dream» began to sprout — everyone have equal opportunity, and can realize their dreams as long as struggling. The pilgrims believed that the United States was born with the blessing of God. But in the eyes of Heller, it has become a long history, and the current situation of the United States is: there are filled with slag, shale, and scrap tires, the earth of rich fruit is covered with pesticides and fertilizers... money as the first priority......motor lodge，vulgar, low-level restaurant stands all over the country like a golden wave stretching. In fact, Heller’s speech is reappearing of the meaning of the famous poem «Beautiful America». The author wrote the moving poem reflecting the prosperity situation where people live and work in peace and contentment with the love to the motherland mountains and rivers. Heller describes that the United States has changed with naughty airway. However, it is not easy to read such humor, it evokes people the memories of White first set foot on this beautiful and fertile land, and examines the contemporary people to make environmental cost, even with similar feelings cost to exchange for the material rich. Heller pushes his humor to the extreme through the strong dialogue of past and the reality.
Because of the long life in the alienation, one-sided life, Heller’s works questioned the things from the overall consistency, the structure of the organic nature, and the significance of the certainty. He recognized the principle of things to use and to its negative. His humor is expressed in the contradiction of words, and this kind of contradiction is expressed in the «presence of past». Heller tried to subvert the original system, both the deconstruction and the continuation of the meta narrative, and established orders in the opposition order.
This contradictory situation makes Heller in the position of a philosopher: the principle of text and works he wrote is not governed by the first rules established, and he shouldn’t be restrained because of a deterministic opinion with familiar category used in the text. The academic circles often use the negative rhetoric method to describe him, such as «non-continuity», «fracture», «non-stability», «centrifugal», «non-deterministic», «anti-integrity» and so on. From these descriptions, it can be seen that Heller is a challenge to the tradition, the established and authority, that is, produce paradox through the text itself, and the purpose is to inspire the truththrough the contrast in the black humor.
The Implication of Black Humor.
There are some scholars who have commented on the characteristics of Heller’s speech: «there is a description of the same thing in different times, there are different things in the same time and space conditions, and also there is a visual reflection of the overlap of the subconscious... On the surface, it seems to lack the logical sequence, but not pay attention to the cause and effect relationship... But in fact, the book is scattered and the God is not arbitrary, and has a profound image metaphor system.» Heller forms his dialogue style by repetition, cross, and contrasts. The relationship is not only reflected in the dialogue structure of language, dialogue and other external forms, but also in the internal tone, style and other factors. Bakhtin thinks that: «when language contacts his object, he needs to enter the excited and tense dialogue zone formed by others’ comment, appraisal, and appraise, also roll into their complicated mutual relations. All of this will make a major impact on the form of discourse, and invade to all levels in the meaning of the discourse, thus making the discourse of human becomes complicated and affects the whole face of his rhetoric.» Heller analyzes the collective unconscious truth with ridicule language, trying to poke the veil of the grand narrative of mainstream culture.
The art strength of Heller’s language is not tragic, and he does not focus on the reasonable inner moment and moral development of characters, leaping out of the theme of conflict of family and love. He did not want to «establish» or «confirm» a point of view, but to make the world desolate in ridicule, and call readers the ultimate meaning of life in another voice.
- Steven Weisenburger. (1995). Fables of Subversion: Satire and American Novel. Athens London: The University of Georgia Press, 47(26), 15–23.
- Paul Krassnes. (1999). «An Impolite Interview with Joseph Heller,» Adam J. Sorkin, ed，Conversations with Joseph Heller. Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi.
- Gene H Blocker. (1979). The Metaphysics of Absurdity. Washington D. C: University Press of America, Inc. 23(14), 108.
- William F. Fry. (1987). Humor and Paradox» in American. Behavioral Scientist, 30(04), 87–89.
- Norman N Holland. (1982). Laughing: A Psychology of Humor. Cornell: Cornell University Press Ltd., 12(11), 32.
- Robert Merrill. (1987). Joseph Heller. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 61(28), 33–49.
- Wang Changrong. (1992). Modern American novel. Shanghai: Shanghai Foreign Language Education Press.
- Cheng Xilin, Wang Xiaolu. (2001). Contemporary American novel theory. Beijing: Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press.
- Dong Xiaochuan. (2006). Introduction to American culture. Beijing: People’s Publishing Press.