John Gardner uses his characters’ moralistic speeches in juxtaposition with their contradictory actions to convey the struggle of the human condition. Through different philosophies, Gardner works to show the ugly reality of human life, ironically, usually through a fairytale setting. Otherwise, he reveals the hidden truths of the human condition through the technique of a book within a book, where the characters inside the story reveal characteristics of the characters outside of it. Put simply, Gardner’s work depicts the human struggle of not knowing for sure what life means for the characters, and who they are. Pulling heavily from the philosophy of existentialism, a viewpoint that focuses mainly on human existence within a vast and meaningless universe, he shows that humans all work through something that could be called an “existentialist crisis.” These characters in crisis face the philosophy head on and become depressed by the reality it implies, one that depicts life as bleak, meaningless, and futile, full of human illusions and arbitrary traditions. However, though the characters preach about how life is bleak and average in their own lives, their unconscious behavior reveals that they nonetheless hope for a better reality.
Just as John Gardner characterizes the human condition as a constant war between logic and faith, government officials in the twentieth century used psychological warfare to make the brain a battlefield. The injuries to the mind that psychological warfare created, be that through propaganda – a very dangerous form of deception – drugs, or brainwashing, were irreversible. Although it had been used before, psychological warfare officially gained legitimacy throughout World War I, World War II, and the Cold War, as government agencies and the U.S. military added it to its arsenal. Psychological warfare as it developed throughout the twentieth century became more than a defense against Soviet propaganda, but simultaneously developed into an influential foreign relations tool as well as a weapon ready to fire alongside bullets. After its establishment in 1946, the CIA’s influence grew rapidly, namely as it conducted top secret and illegal experiments, all the while manipulating the public and foreign affairs.
Major Works Consulted:
Gardner, John. The Art of Living and Other Stories. New York: Knopf, 1981.
John Gardner. Digital image. Wikipedia. 1 Jan. 1977. Web.
---. October Light. New York: New Directions, 2005.
Simpson, Christopher. Science of Coercion: Communication Research & Psychological Warfare 1945-1980. New York: Oxford UP, 1994.
Summers, Robert E. International Propaganda and Communications: America’s Weapons of Psychological Warfare. New York: Arno, 1972.