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Literature / Journey to the End of the Night

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"Our life is a journey
Through winter and night.
We look for our way
In a sky without light."
Song of the Swiss Guards, 1793

Journey to the End of the Night (in French: Voyage au bout de la nuit) is the most famous novel by French writer Louis-Ferdinand Céline. Semi-autobiographical, it follows a man named Ferdinand Bardamu, who in his experiences in Paris, World War I, colonial Africa and the United States faces the horrors and absurdities of human existence. It deals with themes such as war, trauma and insanity, hatred, patriotism, and hypocrisy, always with an extremely bitter and cynical sense of humor.

Decidedly misanthropic in nature, the book is a tad controversial; in fact, Céline blamed its content for the flack he received later in life (which was in fact owed to his vocal antisemitic beliefs and his collaboration with German occupiers of France during the Second World War). Nevertheless, the novel was highly regarded by much of the literary world of the later 20th century, among others, Kurt Vonnegut and William S. Burroughs praised the book and cited Celine as a literary influence on their own writing.

Not to be confused with the play Long Day's Journey Into Night by Eugene O'Neill.

Provides examples of:

  • Big Applesauce: Bardamu spends some time in New York City.
  • Crapsack World: Oh boy... Between the wars, the poverty, and the people who are all either hypocrites, manipulators, militarists, paranoid (including the protagonist), the world of the novel isn't depicted nicely.
  • The Cynic: Several characters but Bardamu is the most noticeable.
  • Darkest Africa: Played mostly straight.
    We were heading for Africa, the real, grandiose Africa of impenetrable forests, fetid swamps, inviolate wildernesses, where black tyrants wallowed in sloth and cruelty on the banks of neverending rivers. I would barter a pack of "Pilett" razor blades for big long elephant's tusks, gaudy-colored birds, and juvenile slaves. Guaranteed. That would be life!
  • Dirty Coward: Discussed at length. Ultimately the consensus of the novel seems to be that although being cowardly is seen by most as a despicable behavior and defiling, it is what keeps Bardamu alive and well through the novel. Those who shame him for such behavior aren't so brave themselves.
  • Humans Are Bastards
  • Hypocrite: Almost every adult characters (including the protagonist).
  • Meaningful Name: Most of the characters, usually humorous in nature. The name "Bardamu" itself is derived from the French words "barda" (a type of equipment used in WWI to carry weapons and supplies) and "mu" (a conjugation of the verb "mouvoir", which means "to move").
  • Misanthrope Supreme: Bardamu, though giving the setting it is justified.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Firmly on the cynical end of the scale.
  • War Is Hell: to the point where the so-called "cowards" are the only sane men. Ironically enough, Bardamu starts the novel believing that War Is Glorious, he quickly learns better.