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Discuss How Waugh Blends Comedy and Tragedy in 'a Handful of Dust':

  • Date Submitted: 09/26/2010 04:56 AM
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Discuss how Waugh blends comedy and tragedy in ‘A Handful of Dust’:

The blend of an essentially tragic plot with comical situations and characters is noted by Peter Quennel, saying that the reader “smiles and is subtly horrified at the same time” by Waugh’s sometimes humorous punishment of his characters.   As the novel progresses, it becomes increasingly symbolic, exacerbating the amusing factors of the tragic
To understand how Waugh blends comedy and tragedy in this novel, it is also important to understand why. Waugh felt that society was descending into “fear in a handful of dust”, the title referencing TS Eliot’s ‘modernist poem, The Waste Land’. A Handful of Dust is the first of Waugh’s works that has an inherently religious message. With the serious tone and often upsetting plot, Waugh felt that humour would sufficiently lighten the mood of the novel and also unsettle the reader.
The comic and tragic elements serve the same purpose and in their own ways belittle the characters and their situations. Early in the novel, in a discussion with Beaver, Jock remarks that ‘Tony’s the happiest man I know,” with an apparently “devoted wife”.   Beaver and Jock are largely responsible for Tony’s devastating downfall, yet they consider how perfect his life is before doing so. This is exactly the kind of self-mocking ironic satire that Waugh aims to achieve, making his characters seem worthless and surreal. John Andrew continues this theme when referring to Polly Cockpurse as “that monkey-woman”. She is a tragic woman, similar to Beaver in that her purpose has been to climb the social ladder, a pointless activity as far as Waugh is concerned. Yet John Andrew’s innocent interpretation of her appearance amuses the reader for more simple reasons. Waugh contrasts instances that are funny for obvious reasons with tragedy that is more complex and vice versa.
Tragedy and comedy combine to the same satirical ends throughout the novel. This is particularly true for Tony’s...

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