The Tale of the Unknown Island

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A Critical Analysis of ‘The Tale of the Unknown Island’ by José Saramago.| EN4903|
By Mr Drew Eaglesham|

A Critical Analysis of ‘The Tale of the Unknown Island’ by José Saramago. -------------------------------------------------

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Kirkus in 2010 called this story ‘a mischievous and thoughtful satire on ruling elites and bold dreamers, cast in the form of revisionist fairy-tale.’ This review could easily be applied to another story of Saramago’s, ‘Centaur’, and beautifully sums up the style of the author. ‘The Tale of the Unknown Island’ by the Nobel Prize winning Portuguese author José Saramago was first published in the original Portuguese in 1997 and later in English in 1999. Set in an unidentified land in an unspecified time, the story tells of a man petitioning the king for a boat to find the unknown island. Even when the king tries to persuade the man that all islands are known, the man persists in his belief and is granted the boat he is after. The king’s cleaning lady follows the man in his attempt to find the unknown island and the two of them continue to the boat. Once on the boat the man tries to find a crew to help them on their voyage but is met only by the same doubtfulness of unknown islands as the king by sailors and harbour masters alike. That night however, the man dreams about the crew of the boat abandoning the man to a known island and the boat undergoing a burst of creation in the form of trees and plant life as the man searches for the cleaning lady. The story concludes with the man waking up and embracing the cleaning lady until the morning when they name the boat ‘The Unknown Island’ and sail off together. Throughout the story Saramago continuously looks to challenge the consensus of others through the optimism and belief of the main character the ‘man’ and magically intertwines these themes with a fairy tale of love and the search for self-knowing....
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