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We, The Immortals

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  • October 18, 2013
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We, The Immortals
While The Immortals by Martin Amis is “local” in that it is written from the perspective of an English-speaker using humor that appeals to other English-speakers (“New Zealand, I find, is pretty dead at the best of times”), its themes and motifs are truly universal. This is due to two main reasons: first, because the protagonist himself is so essentially human in his thinking and behavior, and second, because the examination of immortality in fictional story form has existed for thousands of years—notably in the ancient Greek and Roman myths—and is thus in itself timeless. The timelessness and broad appeal of Amis’s story is evident in the careful layering of narrative, character development, and deliberate use of language and imagery. In the following essay, I will explore these ideas in greater detail. As the title suggests, The Immortals is concerned with immortality, and more specifically, with mortality itself. The narrator, the Immortal, suffers from an ironic excess of time. He has watched life evolve from the first living cell and, at the time of narration, is watching as humanity breathes its last breath, done in by its own hand in a vague, global-warming type of apocalypse. By employing the narrow perspective of a single, timeless individual, Amis cleverly crafts a story about time and mortality, arguably the most universal aspects of human existence. By giving his protagonist an inhuman characteristic—immortality—Amis creates a character who is inherently relatable. In this sense, the story is really about mortality rather than immortality, and as such has an obvious appeal to people everywhere across culture and geography. Despite its universality, The Immortals retains local elements of place and time. Principal among these is language. The story is written by an English-speaker seemingly for English-speakers, as evidenced by turns of phrase that would be difficult to translate and require firsthand, fluent familiarity...