The Validity of Henry Miller's Radical Pacifism in Tropic of Cancer

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It is hardly reasonable to expect a man who will forgo employment that allows such benefits like the necessity of food to attend to the needs of a war. Yet some people criticized Henry Miller because he did not take action; he hardly discussed the war in Tropic of Cancer; and, in their opinion, it is his moral obligation as a citizen-writer to address it. However, Miller is defensible only because his “mind is on the peace treaty all the time” (Miller, 143). The silence about the war in the novel suggests a stance of “extreme pacifism,” which is defensible because of his autobiographical honesty about his radical individualism and the artistic intent to describe the beauty of keeping in touch with humanity in spite of eventual …show more content…
Miller’s friend and sometimes-lover Anais Nin also observed his response to the war. The most she could say about it was that his “anarchism is excited” (Nin, 176). “Excited” can be taken to mean he is even more vehemently anarchist, even more vehemently freedom-oriented. “Working obsessionally” on his book The Air-Conditioned Nightmare reflects his “excitement,” especially because it is evident just based on the title alone that he is responding to the expectations of society that could be too constraining. These are the only two mentions of Miller in Nin’s diary that day, and it’s clear that she believes his impassioned writing is a result of the political atmosphere.
Miller’s position is in great contrast to other modernist writers who responded to the war, such as Gertrude Stein, Hemingway, and Orwell. Stein’s biographical/autobiographical novel The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas places special emphasis on the war. The most action happens in the war chapter, as well as the most character growth. In it, the novel switches emphasis from the sense of self to the actions Stein and Toklas take, such as “[picking] up their first military god-son” to help the war effort (Stein, 173). Stein also incorporates segments of passionate nationalism, claiming “any two americans, any twenty americans, any millions of americans can organize themselves to do something,” whereas “but germans cannot” (Stein, 153). Her

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