Unveiling Hypocrisy: Owen Marshall’s 'Mr Van Gogh'

Dissecting Societal Intolerance: A Fresh Perspective

In his evocative short story 'Mr Van Gogh', Owen Marshall deftly explores the theme of societal intolerance towards non-conformists. Through his narrative, he not only unveils the harsh realities faced by individuals like Mr. Van Gogh but also prompts introspection in the readers. This essay aims to offer a unique perspective by delving into various aspects of the story including characterization, biblical allusion, and imagery, while integrating discussions on historical context, the author's influences, and the story's relevance to contemporary society.

The characters in 'Mr Van Gogh' are crafted with a purpose, each embodying varying societal attitudes towards those who deviate from the norm. Mr. Van Gogh, the protagonist, is portrayed as an individual of depth, passion, and moral fortitude, contrasting sharply with the superficial and dismissive Mr. Souness. This contrast is more than a simple narrative device; it encapsulates the broader societal disdain for uniqueness. The setting, a small, close-knit town, exacerbates this conflict, portraying a society quick to ridicule and ostracize.

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The array of side characters, including Rainbow Johnston and the Bulldozer guy, further enrich this portrayal, each representing different societal reactions to deviation from the norm. This nuanced characterization serves as a critique of society's inclination to isolate and belittle the non-conformists among us.

Biblical Allusion: Unmasking Societal Hypocrisy

Marshall's use of biblical allusion in 'Mr Van Gogh' is both profound and insightful. The protagonist's Christ-like portrayal, with “arms outstretched like a cross”, serves as a poignant symbol of his unjust martyrdom at the hands of a callous society.

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This vivid imagery transcends mere dramatic effect; it is a scathing indictment of societal hypocrisy and cruelty. The parallel drawn between Mr. Van Gogh and Christ is not only about suffering but also about the misunderstanding and mistreatment of those who bring new perspectives and ideas. Just as Christ was persecuted for his revolutionary teachings, Mr. Van Gogh faces scorn for his unconventional passion and lifestyle.

Moreover, the allusion to the Book of Luke, where Mr. Souness is implicitly criticized for his judgmental nature, adds another layer to this theme. This biblical reference serves as a powerful reminder of the moral imperative to look inward and address one's own flaws before casting judgment on others. It speaks to the universal truth that understanding and compassion are often lacking in human interactions, particularly with those who challenge the status quo.

These biblical references are masterfully employed by Marshall to not only enhance the narrative but also to underscore his condemnation of society's inclination to vilify and alienate those who embody individuality and difference. They compel the reader to introspect, questioning deeply ingrained biases and beliefs. This use of religious imagery and themes adds a moral and ethical dimension to the story, elevating it from a mere critique of society to a thought-provoking commentary on human nature and the ethical responsibilities of individuals within a community.

By invoking such powerful and universally recognized symbols, Marshall bridges the gap between the story and the reader, creating a connection that is both emotional and intellectual. It encourages a deeper understanding of the societal dynamics at play and challenges the reader to reconsider their role in perpetuating or challenging these dynamics. In this way, the biblical allusions in 'Mr Van Gogh' serve not just as a narrative tool, but as a catalyst for personal and societal reflection, making the story resonate with timeless relevance and urgency.

Imagery: A Canvas of Alienation and Vulnerability

Marshall’s imagery in 'Mr Van Gogh' is both vivid and symbolic, effectively conveying the protagonist's alienation and vulnerability. The simile of Mr. Van Gogh’s face resembling a “plucked chicken” on his deathbed starkly illustrates his defenselessness against societal cruelty. Furthermore, the description of his house as “weathered stoically to an integration of rust and exposed wood” is emblematic of Mr. Van Gogh himself - battered by societal contempt but retaining the essence of his passion. This imagery not only enhances the narrative but also provides deeper insights into the protagonist's struggle and the nature of the society he lives in.

Understanding the story within its historical and social context adds a layer of complexity to the narrative. Set in a time where adherence to societal norms was paramount, the story reflects the challenges faced by those who dared to be different. Marshall's own experiences and worldview likely influenced his portrayal of Mr. Van Gogh, lending authenticity and depth to the narrative. The themes of 'Mr Van Gogh', although set in a different era, resonate with contemporary society, serving as a reminder of the ongoing struggle against conformity and the marginalization of individuality.

'Mr Van Gogh' transcends its historical setting, offering insights relevant to today’s society. In an age where individuality is often celebrated, the story serves as a cautionary tale about the persistence of judgment and intolerance. It compels us to examine how, despite advancements, societal attitudes towards non-conformity still need introspection and improvement. The story's enduring relevance lies in its ability to evoke empathy and inspire change in how we perceive and treat those who challenge societal norms.


Owen Marshall's 'Mr Van Gogh' is not just a story; it's a profound exploration of the human condition, particularly our response to those who diverge from societal norms. Through masterful characterization, biblical allusion, and evocative imagery, Marshall paints a vivid picture of a society that is quick to judge and ostracize. The story transcends its setting, resonating with contemporary audiences and challenging us to reflect on our own attitudes towards non-conformity and individuality. This narrative is particularly poignant in today's world, where, despite a surface-level acceptance of diversity, underlying currents of judgment and intolerance persist.

In the story, Mr. Van Gogh's plight is a metaphor for the struggles faced by many who dare to be different. His alienation and ultimate downfall serve as a stark reminder of the consequences of societal intolerance. Marshall’s narrative compels us to question the norms and biases that we have internalized and to recognize the beauty and value in diversity and non-conformity. It is a call to action, urging us to embrace differences and to stand against the tide of judgment and marginalization that can so easily sweep through any society.

Moreover, the story's relevance extends beyond its critique of societal attitudes. It speaks to the enduring human struggle for acceptance and understanding. Marshall's portrayal of Mr. Van Gogh as a complex, multi-dimensional character highlights the richness that diversity brings to our society. It underscores the importance of empathy, compassion, and open-mindedness in our interactions with those who may appear different from us. This narrative is a powerful reminder of the need for a societal shift towards greater inclusivity and acceptance, encouraging us to not only tolerate but celebrate the unique qualities and perspectives that each individual brings.

In conclusion, 'Mr Van Gogh' is a timeless piece that continues to be relevant in our modern society. It serves as a mirror, reflecting our own prejudices and biases, and as a beacon, guiding us towards a more understanding and accepting world. Marshall's story is an eloquent testament to the power of literature to inspire change, provoke thought, and open hearts. It is a narrative that stays with the reader long after the last page is turned, continuing to challenge and inspire.

Updated: Feb 16, 2024
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Unveiling Hypocrisy: Owen Marshall’s 'Mr Van Gogh'. (2016, May 11). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/mr-van-gogh-literary-essay

Unveiling Hypocrisy: Owen Marshall’s 'Mr Van Gogh' essay
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