Sunday, November 18, 2012

The White Castle - Orhan Pamuk


The White Castle, by Orhan Pamuk is a book that examines the realm of knowledge within the world of cultural identities. In many ways, it is a direct conflict between the West and the East cultures and the knowledge that comes from both. Hoja, is a Turkish scholar who buys the narrator a slave who is actually an Italian scholar.

Throughout the story, both Hoja and the narrator are seen as intellectuals. And while neither can truly claim that they know more than the other at first, it becomes obvious that the narrator's knowledge is contemporary, and thus more scientifically sound than Hoja's. Another difference is that the narrator sees and uses his knowledge as a way to help others, whereas Hoja uses his knowledge to move his own ambitions forward.

When Hoja first bought the narrator, Hoja had tried to force superiority over the slave, but eventually realizes that he as a scholar himself, the slave knows his own share about other things. Hoja begins to develop a relationship (of sorts) with his slave, and he reveals his ambition to become the Sultan’s court astrologer. However, it is during this time that the conflict is at its worst point: Hoja becomes more and more malicious, taunting the narrator over his past misdeeds, his ability to admit faults, and his fear of the plague.

When the plague does hit, Hoja appears to have died because of it, only to recover and reclaim his slave. Hoja sets to work on a great weapon that will prove his brilliance. It is during this time that Hoja is shocked at how much his slave (who has always looked like him) is able to imitate him in mannerisms and knows about his past. At this point, the slave-master role deteriorates completely away and they realize that they are able to switch identities.

In the end, it is a criticism of the differences between Western and Eastern culture and knowledge. Hoja asks at one point if anything would actually change if Istanbul was taken over by Western rulers. “[Would] defeat mean that people would change and alter their beliefs without noticing it?” (109) By the end of the book, it is made clear that normal characteristics that would have an effect on culture – i.e. dress, religion, education, language, wealth – it had all been chance and the knowledge that comes from that is all important.