‘Oscar’

In the March meeting of the Reading Wales group, we discussed Oscar, by Gwyn Thomas, part of the trilogy The Dark Philosophers.  We used Thomas’s political position as a way into the text, his socialist and anti-nationalistic sentiments opening up the novella to a Marxist reading in which the owner of the means of production, the character of Oscar in this case, is representative of excessively exploitative landowning capitalists.  Oscar is regarded as a grotesque colonial figure, squeezing the life out of Wales, and the reader witnesses the impact of this squeeze through the narrative voice of Lewis.  Lewis captures the predicament of oppression in the South Wales Valleys in realist, blunt terms.  His darkly sarcastic outlook is stylistically expressionistic, with frequent elemental references to water, heaviness and dark/light contrasts, giving the impression of a fluid text where identity, morality and power are ambiguous.  The group felt that Lewis embodies the colonised figure: he is compliant with his own oppression by working for Oscar, and yet he displays an existentialist capacity to be free in his own mind, using language as a way to exercise the liberty of internal narrative.  Thomas uses humour as a coping mechanism, with many of the characters, ‘No Doubt’, for example, temporarily relieving the reader of the heaviness of the subject matter – something which many Welsh industrial texts fail to do.  We considered the position of women in Oscar, with Hannah, in particular creating an image of a Welsh beauty exhaustedly giving in to the advancements of capitalism.  Her ultimate act of complicity, however, sparks Lewis into action when he interestingly kills Oscar, not because of Oscar’s obscene lack of morality, but because he exploits Hannah.  Thomas captures the complexity of life under capitalist rule, showing inner, mental freedom, as a means of preventing de-humanisation.

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