Book Report #1 – The Underdogs & The Alienist

In the novel The Underdogs, we follow Demetrio Macias who joins the rebel forces and earns the position of General in Pancho Villa’s army. Throughout the novel the themes of nature, rebellion, and the everyman rising to the occasion are exuded over and over.

The theme of nature is conveyed by the description of Mexico’s vast natural landscape of the mountains, ravines, and trees. They are described in such a way to give the impression of a grand and beautiful land. However, there is also the overwhelming sense of desolation, a haunting and a foreboding feeling lingers throughout the story.

When Demetrio climbs the mountains and steep ravines he exudes a great effort to conquer them. With each and every step requiring tremendous effort, he shows nature respect and takes care to keep its beauty the way it is naturally. In contrast, when the Federales army charges up the mountain, they fall into crevices like “stones” into the water. The difference between Demetrio and the Federales is their attitude. He respects nature and the environment surrounding him, while they march across it, crunching the earth underfoot; which provides the feeling that they did not give a great effort and suffered the consequences.

Similarly, the Federales treat nature how they treat the people of Mexico. The people of Mexico are ruled with an iron fist, being stepped down upon by its leaders and the weight has become too much to bear. As a result, the revolution has broken out, but Mexico is not alone. During the nineteenth century, rebellions occurred not only in Mexico, but also in Russia and France. Other nations like Canada also experienced reform and finally broke away to establish independence. In this way the theme of rebellion for a better way of life is also seen through the historical context of the novel.

Finally, the theme of everyman rising to the occasion is also brought to the attention of the reader, by witnessing Demetrio Macias’ journey. He begins as a man wanting change, and through his charismatic leading becomes General and does make a change for the better. His story is inspiring and speaks directly to the underdog in all of us.

In the novel The Alienist, we see things far different from the mountains of Mexico, set in nineteenth century New York City we follow Laszlo Kreizler, a psychiatrist who is trying to solve the mystery to a string of murders. Also in contrast are the themes found throughout this novel; psychology, evil, and destiny.

The theme of psychology stems from a major plot point, Kreizler is a famous alienist, or someone who is a master of psychology. However, during the time of the murders he was using his knowledge of the subject to decipher clues, and then predict what the serial killer was going to do. Not only is a psychology a theme, but the author, Caleb Carr also went to great lengths to only include knowledge that the characters would have had at the time the novel was set. However, also the question of where sanity ends and insanity begins is explored, as well as where does that line blur.

Set on the streets of New York City in the nineteenth century it was just as dangerous as it is now, if not more. The sentiment of not knowing what is around the corner can be felt on pages when tension is high. In addition to the plot revolving around trying to catch a serial killer, corruption also plays a big part. Police and officials are portrayed in the not so flattering light, of hypocrites and serving only themselves not the public, whom they are sworn to protect and serve. In addition to corruption, evil can be argued to exist when the characters discover and begin to investigate the aftermath of the murders. Only someone who is indeed insane could do something so heinous.

Lastly, destiny is also intricately weaved in and out of the story itself. “Will Kreizler catch the serial killer and what will become of New York City?” are questions that linger in the mind of the reader throughout the entire 500 pages. However, toward the end of the book the reader may begin to believe that Kreizler was meant to investigate these murders, and if that is the case then everything that has happened to him leading up to this, was also meant to have happened. However as for the destiny of New York City, it will continue to exist but will have to endure corruption and crime, as long as evil and insanity exist.

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One Response to Book Report #1 – The Underdogs & The Alienist

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