Black Spring

Black Spring Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Why has Black Spring sometimes been called a “book of mourning”?

    Though many passages in the work are lusty and ebullient, some critics see Black Spring as a book of mourning. This is specifically tied to memory, for Miller spends a lot of the text thinking about his childhood, his old neighborhood, his family, his community, his formative experiences, and more. William Solomon writes that Black Spring is “a lament for what has been lost and may be impossible to retrieve” (684). It is hard for Miller to accept that “we remember only” and that our experiences are gone.

  2. 2

    What might Miller mean with his phrase, “A Coney Island of the mind”?

    Coney Island was a phenomenally popular turn-of-the-century amusement park known for its glittering lights, rides, and shows. It featured a sensory overload of sights and smells and sounds and tastes, and is a perfect encapsulation of the frenetic, simulacra-heavy nature of modern life. Miller was well aware of what Coney Island was like, and it was a perfect metaphor to make the reader aware of what the modern mind was like—over-saturated, over-stimulated, a carnival filled with lies and flimsy evocations of the real.

  3. 3

    Why does Miller weave in autobiography with his fictional experiments?

    It seems impossible that Miller could ever write anything that wasn't tinged with the autobiographical. He took himself very seriously and believed his art was important for the world. He most likely wanted to raise the shock value of his work by indicating to the reader that these encounters, these observations, these memories are from a living, breathing, eating, shitting, fucking, howling man—not a fictional creation. He wants his life to shock and titillate, to pique and unsettle. Miller's life and his art were fused, not separate; he works through his formation of self through his writing.

  4. 4

    How would you describe Miller's style?

    Miller's style is nothing if not distinctive. He favors a stream-of-consciousness, ecriture automatique approach to his writing. Realistic, autobiographical anecdotes are interspersed with bizarre, surrealist images. This makes the work seem as if it is in a fugue state, where logic and reason and continuity are far from guaranteed. He favors bold and often nonsensical metaphors and similes, vivid images, disconcerting personification, non sequiturs, exhausting catalogs, and a tone that varies dramatically, even from sentence to sentence. He has a penchant for the grotesque, the crass, the profane, the uncanny, and the earthy. Critic Herbert Muller explains that “[Miller] is brutally outspoken, draws no lines, rejects all formal discipline, and refuses to tidy up after the job.”

  5. 5

    How can Rabelais be seen as an influence on the text?

    Rabelais was a French Renaissance writer, humorist, satirist, and scholar. His writings are permeated with the ribald, the grotesque, the carnivalesque, and the communal. For Miller, this was exactly the sort of literature that appealed to him. In Black Spring, he states that he admires Rabelais's call for laughter (though he finds this difficult given the tumult of modern times). He also evokes Rabelais in his earthy images and humor, and his fixation on food, the toilet, and the human body. Most importantly, though, he says writers like Rabelais have a “salty tang” in their works; they have “obscenity, lust, cruelty, boredom, wit. Real eunuchs. Real hermaphrodites. Real pricks. Real cunts. Real banquets” (51). Why should art bother with anything else? Why bother with civilization or artifice or pure fiction? Miller takes the spirit of Rabelais and infuses it into his own irrational, disturbing, and glorious prose.