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Candide, the Fredrick Douglass Narrative, and The Fisher King as Works in the Picaresque Form

Powerful Essays
Storytellers use the picaresque form and the quest motif as standard literary devices in film, song, and the written word. The characters in such a story encounter many trials, setbacks, and triumphs on their quest to find what they so diligently seek. There is often much adventure and drama along they way, leading to their ultimate test. The three works discussed in this essay embody these themes. Voltaire's Candide, A Narrative of a Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, and Terry Gilliam's masterpiece The Fisher King present very different journeys using vastly different characters and time periods. Each, however, examines the human spirit as each main character navigates both grizzly and joyous circumstances. End in the end, all is endured in the name of their quest.

Scholars approach the task of defining the picaresque as a very slippery one indeed. Most will not define the genre without a good deal of significance placed on how difficult it is to construct the picaresque archetype, but in the end will do so anyway. In Picaresque Narrative, Picaresque Fiction, Ulrich Wicks uses a definition from Walter Allen's The English Novel, which states that "the picaresque can be described as a story where the hero is plunged in to 'all sorts, conditions, and classes of men.'" Richard Bjornson offers his own interpretation:

In broad general terms, [picaresque] is usually employed to describe episodic, open ended narratives in which lower-class protagonists sustain themselves by means of their cleverness and their adaptability during and extended journey through space, time, and various predominantly corrupt social milieux.

Defining the role of th...

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The Fisher King. Dir. Terry Gilliam. Perf. Robin Williams, Jeff Bridges. 1991. Videocassette. Tri-Star. 1991.

Tindall, George Brown, and David Emory Shi. America: A Narrative History. New York: W.W. Norton Co., 1997.

Voltaire, Francois-Marie Arouquet De. Candide. The Norton Anthology of Western Masterpieces. Ed. Maynard Mack, et.al. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1992.

Wicks, Ulrich. Picaresque Narrative, Picaresque Fiction. New York: Greenwood Press, 1989.
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