The Third Man Annotated Bibliography–and a brief blog post

Bibs! Git yer bibs here!

So, I really, really like archetypes and mythology. As in, I could probably just wax philosophic about the Hero’s Journey for hours (yeah, ha–guess what a large part of my project is?). This is cool personal information and all, and I am sure everyone reading this is just over the moon about getting to learn about my interests, but what the crap does that have to do with The Third Man? A surprising amount, actually.

See, you’ll have to take a look at the annotated bibliography for a bit of this, but in doing my research for this book I came across two articles. One article talked about how Holly/Rollo Martins (either deliberately or purely by amusing accident) engages in many behavioral and narrative tropes from the Western genre–which he writes for a living–to both his detriment and success in different ways. The tropes I refer to are such things as “the lone wanderer entering a new town and swiftly exposing a diabolical plot” (though which “plot” is diabolical–the police’s or Harry Lime’s–changes throughout the text), “the bar fight” (where Martins fails to even throw a punch before he’s taken down), “the shootout” (a solemn execution, in the sewers, of one friend by another, instead of a tense, middle-of-town showdown) and so on.

The other article was a discussion of platonic metaphysics, and arguments against certain aspects thereof (specifically, how some of the characteristics of forms, as they were originally defined, were contradictory and caused the Theory of Forms to implode). Platonic metaphysics–which is a field of philosophy, not of, you know, physics–is really freaking complicated, and I already talk about this particular little bit in the bibliography, so I’m not going to shove an icepick through anyone’s skull by going over the stuff again. What I will go over again (sort of), is how idealization seems to function within The Third Man: characters truss up other characters as being different (better, nicer, more religious, more selfish, more brutal, more naive, et cetera) than they are in reality, and it is these clashes of idealization and reality that drive much of the character interaction and ultimately much of the narrative.

These two articles (or at least the things they make me think about) come together in an interesting way in my head: few of the characters within The Third Man actually feel like they are interacting with other human beings. Martins immediately identifies Calloway as “the sheriff,” for instance, and acts belligerently based on that identification–but is later forced to confront his misconceptions of both Calloway and Lime, changing his attitude. Anna Schmidt spends most of the narrative calling (in the film, at least) Holly Martins Harry, implying that she views him as, effectively, a replacement for Lime–and reacts quite negatively when he proves that he most certainly is not. What I am trying to say, basically, is that (most of) the characters in The Third Man think that everyone around them is a caricature, not a person, and they idealize those “caricatures” based on first impressions into simplistic “people-forms” instead of actual people. When their idealizations (which do not have to be positive–remember, we’re talking platonic ideals here, which just means “essential, timeless version”) are then contradicted, the characters in The Third Man react, often becoming quite upset.

Interestingly, thinking about the characters in the story in this way actually makes Harry Lime the character who is most true to himself and others: he is at least honest about the fact that he views other people as caricatures.

-Eliot Sherman


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