Study Guide

A Season in Hell Foreignness and 'the Other'

By Arthur Rimbaud

Foreignness and 'the Other'

There's no two ways around this: the speaker of "A Season in Hell" is just a wee bit racist. OK, so maybe he's a lot racist. In his hurry to reject Western civilization, he turns to some very essentialist notions of what folks in the East are like: savage brutes, bloody, and undeveloped. In his view, that's a good thing. He wants to pursue that kind of life and reject the conventions of middle-class France. But that doesn't get him off the hook for his racism. We mean, come on, man. There's gotta be a better way to reject social conformity than insulting half of the world's population.

Questions About Foreignness and 'the Other'

  1. What about the East, specifically, is so attractive to the speaker?
  2. What parts of the world does the speaker focus on in his fantasies of escape from Western civilization? What are his views of those parts of the world?
  3. The speaker also wants to flee modern civilization and return to the past. What about the ancient Gauls appeals to him?
  4. Do you think the speaker is consciously being racist in the poem? Why or why not?

Chew on This

The speaker's views of non-Westerners demonstrate how all racism is derived from ignorance.

The speaker's racism makes him seems ridiculous. We just can't take anything else he says seriously as a result.

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