I was reading Kafka’s The Metamorphosis again last night and was struck by how it actually contained a deep vein of dark humor throughout. In high school, the way literature was taught seemed to strongly suggest that there were “serious” works and “humorous” works and never the twain shall meet. But thinking back on all of the works of literature that have profoundly affected me, there’s always been humor laced throughout.
So are there any great works of literature that aren’t also funny?
Seriously, there are at most, like, five jokes in the entire Bible, and they’re not even funny. Actually, the utter humorlessness of Christianity is one of the things that always made me wonder how it ever caught on.
(Link to article on biblical jokes on some weird site called “the Straight Dope”.)
There’s not a lot of laughs in The Waste Land or anything by T. S. Eliot. Speaking of whom – Raymond Chandler was born the same year as him, and Chandler’s work is reliably somber, with only occasional and brief moments of light-hearted dialogue to leaven the grimness.
Have you not read the book of Jonah? That story is not just funny; it’s deliberately funny.
That’s what you get for believing anything in The Straight Dope…AHAHAHA
Seriously, the Bible does have a lot of humor, but not in the Laurel and Hardy sense. More in the Shakespearean/Stephen Wright/Robin Williams/Clive Barker/Twilight Zone sense. Some of the jokes are not funny, because you don’t understand the customs of the time.
Example 1: A man molests the sister of another man (Names are omitted because I’m too tired to dig out my Bible and I’m at work - It’s Genesis 34, look it up). The penalty is death. The molester begs and pleads to marry the woman. No dice. The offended man says the molester can have her and everybody can be friends IF he and his tribe are circumcised.
So the man and his tribe agree. A few days later, the offended man and his tribe kill every last one of the now-in-pain men.
Pretty funny, huh? Kinda like a Old Testament Pulp Fiction scene…
Jesus tells a man that his sins are forgiven (Mark 2:1-9) to take up his mat. He was lame and Jesus healed him. . The Pharisees questioned his ability and authority to do this. Jesus says (and I picture Joe Pesce’s character from Goodfellas here) “What is easier? To say your sins are forgiven or to take up your mat and walk? But just so you know who I am…” and he turns to the lame man and says “Take up your mat and go home”.
I almost imagine Jesus grabbing his crotch and saying, “Heal this bitches”…but that’s just me…It might have happened, but I’m sure the apostles left that out.
A novel with characters named Pip, Compeyson, Drummle, Gargery, Jaggers, Magwitch, Orlick, Pocket, Pumblechook, Skiffins, Startop, Waldengarver, Wemmick, and Wopsle can’t be said to be totally humorless.
I don’t seem to be having too much trouble thinking of works of literature that aren’t funny… even though I tend to avoid the really depressing stuff. Moby-Dick, Jane Eyre, The Last of the Mohicans, The Grapes of Wrath… well, not that they were totally devoid of any moment of humor, but I wouldn’t call them “funny”.
I was surprised to discover that Hemingway had quite a nice dry sense of humor when I read A Moveable Feast.
Then of course there’s stuff like Tobacco Road that’s pretty funny but not intentionally.