Social Marginalization: A Profound Study of Human Behavior

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Owen Marshall's 'Mr Van Gogh' intricately explores the profound dynamics of social inclusion and exclusion. In this narrative microcosm of a small New Zealand town, Marshall artfully weaves a tale that extends far beyond its fictional setting, delving into the complexities of human behavior and societal norms. Let's navigate through the layers of this thought-provoking story, unraveling its nuances and implications.

Social Rejection and Frank's Isolation

The narrative brilliantly employs the voice of the town bully, Mr. Souness, to amplify the stark reality of Frank's rejection.

Souness, with his derisive questioning about Van Gogh, becomes a mouthpiece for the collective mockery directed at Frank. The rhetorical question, "Was he any good, though, this Van Gogh bugger?" becomes a haunting refrain, embodying the colloquial disdain that Souness uses to belittle Frank.

This calculated act of public humiliation triggers a wave of guilt in the reader, as they grapple with the uncomfortable truth that society often thrives on creating "outcasts." Marshall, through these representative characters, forces readers to confront the dichotomy of societal acceptance and rejection, compelling individuals to either conform or assert their unique identities.

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The isolation of Frank is further heightened by Marshall's deliberate parallels between him and Van Gogh. The repetition of the term "bugger" in the context of the town's democratic wishes becomes a haunting motif, hinting at a shared destiny of marginalization. By ironically anointing Frank as "Mr. Van Gogh," the narrative cruelly sets him on a path mirroring the misunderstood genius, Van Gogh, who met a lonely and unrecognized end.

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Cowardly Acts of the Narrator and Bystanders

Marshall skillfully exposes the complicity of the narrator and bystanders in perpetuating Frank's marginalization. The vivid simile describing Frank standing "like a cross" during the laughter evokes a disturbing image of his derision. By introducing biblical allusions that link Frank to Jesus, Marshall accentuates his sacrificial role for the townspeople's amusement.

The narrator's cowardly act of walking away, paralleled with Pontius Pilate washing his hands of responsibility, becomes a powerful commentary on society's reluctance to confront discrimination. Marshall, with finesse, reveals the universal human tendency to avoid risks and safeguard one's self-interest, even at the expense of others.

Destruction of Frank's Individuality

The symbolic destruction of Frank's house becomes a poignant metaphor for the erasure of individuality by the community. Marshall intricately weaves the phoenix metaphor, highlighting the resurrection of Frank's identity through his work and dwelling. The classical allusion serves to underscore the significance of Frank's originality.

The simile depicting the house collapsing "like an old elephant in the drought" draws a striking parallel between the townsfolk and scavengers. Marshall portrays the majority as cowards, preying on perceived weakness. The vulnerability of the house without Frank's protection symbolizes the powerlessness of the individual against societal forces.

The destruction becomes a symbolic act of stifling uniqueness, as the community unconsciously strives to eliminate any forms of individuality. In the aftermath, the house's rise "like a phoenix" signifies the resilience of Frank's spirit, carrying his soul through his work and his dwelling.

Binary Construction and Universal Marginalization

Marshall masterfully delves into the concept of binary construction, asserting that society inherently relies on inclusion and exclusion. The destruction of Frank's house elicits a spectrum of emotions, from sympathy to horror, vividly illustrating the overwhelming force of the majority against individuality. The narrative becomes a powerful catalyst for readers to reflect on societal norms and question the embedded hypocrisy in judgment.

The inevitability of marginalization for the sake of community cohesion becomes unmistakable. Marshall's storytelling forces readers to confront the uncomfortable reality that group mentality often suppresses individuality. In this intricate dance between inclusion and exclusion, the nuanced shades of societal behavior are laid bare.

Hypocrisy and the Call to Action

Through the lens of hypocrisy, Marshall exposes societal judgments, employing biblical allusions in Souness's laughter and knuckle-rubbing. The author challenges readers to recognize their own complicity in societal norms, following the majority blindly. 'Mr Van Gogh' becomes a call to action, urging readers to reconsider their attitudes toward social marginalization and become agents of positive change.

Young people, especially, should engage with this narrative to heighten awareness of societal realities. 'Mr Van Gogh' vividly illustrates the social marginalization present in reality, where individuals are often ridiculed for their differences while society paradoxically yearns for conformity.


In conclusion, Owen Marshall's 'Mr Van Gogh' transcends the boundaries of a short story, evolving into a profound exploration of human nature and societal dynamics. The narrative challenges readers to question their roles in perpetuating societal norms and inspires them to act against social marginalization. Through the lens of a small New Zealand town, Marshall delivers a powerful parable that resonates across cultures and prompts introspection into the very fabric of human interaction.

Updated: Jan 11, 2024
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Social Marginalization: A Profound Study of Human Behavior. (2014, Sep 28). Retrieved from

Social Marginalization: A Profound Study of Human Behavior essay
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