Mr Van Gogh Literary Essay

Owen Marshall’s short story ‘Mr Van Gogh’ is an explanation of society’s harsh attitudes towards individuals today. Through characterization, religious allusion and imagery Owen Marshall portrays Mr Van Gogh as someone who is overcoming society’s acts of judgement. This is reflected on the audience because Marshall makes us question our own behavior in the hope that we will change. Owen Marshal uses imagery, biblical allusion and characterization to impact the audience.

Characterization is a key feature in the short story ‘Mr Van Gogh’.

Contrasting characters determine the effects of individuals trying to ‘fit in’ society. This is shown in Mr Souness personality towards Mr Van Gogh as rude, merciless and ignorant. This is depicted in the first paragraph when Mr Souness’ relatives visit and start mocking, this is a portrayal of how this is served to illustrate to the reader the cruelty that is a common place in society. Mr Souness is a materialistic man with few morals and little acceptance for people who are ‘different’.

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He only talks to Mr Van Gogh in order to make fun of his passion.

Despite Van Gogh’s willingness to share his passion with society, “only those who wanted to mock him, encouraged him to talk.” However Mr Van Gogh is described as a man who bases his life around his morals and values. He is passionate and simply loves beauty and life. He spends all his money on his artwork such as buying different colors for his glass, especially yellow because Mr Van Gogh said it represents personal expression.

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To others in the community “he didn’t have anything worth stealing” Mr Van Gogh is somewhat eccentric and often shy or submissive around others in the community.

The contrasting personalities help illustrate themes of small town mentalities and beauty of being on the inside. Mr Souness singles out Mr Van Gogh because he is different, this is a characteristic or trait often associated with small towns. This is an example of how society has become materialistic and shallow. Mr Van Gogh in comparison is moral and passionate about life and beauty. He embodies the qualities which everyone should strive to abstain. Furthermore, contrasting characters are evident through the short story, these are the Parsons son, The Father, Rainbow Johnston and the Bulldozer guy.

Characters like these show the true events of social marginalization in society today. From the name ‘Rainbow Johnston’ sounds so happy but names can be deceiving by their meaning already. Turns out Rainbow Johnston and his friends smashed all Mr Van Gogh’s precious valuables with no second thought of any consequences. Characterization is represented well with biblical allusion.

The narrator uses biblical allusion to a great effect in order to show the audience his opinions regarding alienation. This is evident through Mr Van Gogh’s actions “arms outstretched like a cross” displaying a reference to Jesus’ crucification on the cross, supposedly for humanity’s sins. The immediate effect of this is to show the reader that Mr Van Gogh is horribly mistreated for his beliefs, just like Jesus was said to be treated in the Bible. Additionally, a second example of biblical allusion is present at the end of the text when Mr Souness rubs the dust from his eye. This is an allusion to the Book of Luke, where it talks about removing the log from your own eye before speaking out against the dust in the eye of your brother. This shows that Marshall believes that society had destroyed Mr Van Gogh before dealing with its own problems and that Marshall condemns society for this.

Imagery is depicted in the short story ‘Mr Van Gogh’ to effectively demonstrate the effects of alienation on individuals. On his deathbed, Mr Van Gogh’s face is described as the “color of a plucked chicken”. This imagery of a plucked chicken is used to demonstrate the helplessness of Mr Van Gogh and how vulnerable he is.

Owen Marshall uses imagery to strengthen opinions held on persecution by using strong allusions and the effects this alienation has on the mistreated. His allusion to Jesus Christ attached huge and powerful connotations to Mr Van Gogh, and the humiliation he was subjected to, while being so vulnerable himself, made the death of him and the loss of his great work even more disastrous. The description of Mr Van Gogh as a plucked chicken is used to demonstrate how persecution leaves a  person vulnerable and belittled. Mr Van Gogh has been alienated and taunted because of his passion in a subject that society can not understand and that intensity of belief is the reason of his downfall.

Owen Marshall uses vivid imagery to depict Mr Van Gogh’s house “weathered stoically to an integration of rust and exposed wood” is symbolic of the man himself, who for his art, is willing to expose himself to this mocking society. Because of the completed beauty of his art behind the rough exterior, it stands for the man himself with the ‘old-fashioned’, ‘careworn’ appearance and the singular beauty of his passion. Owen Marshall distinctively describes the house as weathering and old.”The fire and life upon the walls and ceiling defied Mr Van Gogh’s drained face”

Finally, Owen Marshall uses characterization, religious allusion and imagery to depict the harsh explanation of society’s attitudes towards individuals today. This reflects in the short story ‘Mr Van Gogh’ with the alienation and mocking created by society.

Cite this page

Mr Van Gogh Literary Essay. (2016, May 11). Retrieved from

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