Connections, Dislocations and Displacements: Personal and Societal Relationships in Nilo Cruz's Anna in the Tropics and Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina

By Yuan, Oswald; Chang, Chin | Nebula, September 2007 | Go to article overview

Connections, Dislocations and Displacements: Personal and Societal Relationships in Nilo Cruz's Anna in the Tropics and Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina


Yuan, Oswald, Chang, Chin, Nebula


Abstract

Using Bakhtin's chronotope lens, this paper examines the connection between personal and societal relationships to be found at the confluence of Nilo Cruz's play Anna in the Tropics and Leo Tolstoy's novel Anna Karenina. The paper takes a brief look at what Bakhtin meant by the chronotope and then tries to establish just how effective that concept is for analyzing the relationship between the two works of art--in terms of characters, setting, time period, and events. The paper concludes that, while the chronotope concept seems adept at uncovering the personal relationships within the space-time continuum of the two works, it is not as effective at bringing out the social or spatial relations. In other words, the chronotope representing the personal relationships among the various characters of the play overwhelms that representing the social relations, despite the fact the Bakhtinian analysis would want to argue that personal relations are a convenient fiction and would have little existence without some corresponding social field. The paper also concludes that Anna Karenina did a better job of representing social relations in its time period, 19th-century Russia, than Anna in the Tropics did representing those of its later time period, being the early part of the 20th century. The paper offers an explanation for this disparity in terms of the relative simplicity of the Tolstoy chronotope as it represents historical time and space, versus the more complex attempt by Cruz in terms of his transposition of Anna Karenina to another time-space continuum, and it represents the relativity of the postmodern vision of societal relationships.

Introduction

This paper undertakes an examination of various space-time relationships (personal and societal) within and between Cuban-American playwright Nilo Cruz's 2003 Pulitzer Prize winning play Anna in the Tropics and Leo Tolstoy's classic 19th century Russian realist novel Anna Karenina. The paper employs a Bakhtian chronotope lens to examine the connections, dislocations and displacements in the space-time relationships between the two works of literature in order to determine how well the personal, social and spatial relations are brought out in each of the works--as well as the relationship between the two works of art (as made explicit by Cruz in his play.. This type of analysis includes such associations as:

1. The superimposition of the characters and situations from the novel onto the play, including an adulterous affair and a tragic death;

2. The time period differentials between the two works and the bridges used in an effort to connect them, for example the similarities and differences between 19th century conditions in Russia and early 20th century conditions in the United States;

3. The parallels between the themes in the novel (with special emphasis on the particular material from Anna Karenina reading during the play), and those in the play.

4. The relative emphasis on personal relationships versus societal constructs in the two works.

The paper also applies the space-time theories of such postmodern thinkers as Henri Lefebvre (rhythmanalysis and natural versus linear time), Doreen Massey (spatial patterns and gender relationships), Linda McDowell (domestic space and feminism), and David Harvey (culture and economics) to examine the relationships among space/spatiality, gender, production, capitalist consumerism and commodity in Cruz's play. It contributes to the literature on Bakhtinian chronotope analysis and its ability to mine key information from a work of art. The paper also shows that such an analysis can be used to distil the essential relationships that these two works attempt to celebrate and shows the relevance of those relationships in terms that go beyond the particular connections between and among characters. I believe that the ability to separate personal/individual existential themes from societal ones will result in a new way of looking at the two works of art, thus helping to build up the work's universal meaning (both within its own timeframe and for us). …

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