Comparative Literature


Thetravel literature genre involves exploration literature, mountainliterature, and outdoor literature among others. Such literaturesportray a number of themes including tourism, Orientals, censorshipand exile. The word exile is derived from the Latin word exiliumimplying banishment. This refers to the condition in which one isseparated from his or her home or country by circumstances or byforce for a prolonged period. One should note that the first everexilic experience dates back to the time when Adam and Eve wereexiled from paradise. In general, the literature of exile is regardedto be concerned with exploration and travel in a peculiar manner.According to Speake, “Exiled writers are more inclined to nostalgiaand introspection than to the description and exploration of theirnew surroundings” (416). In addition, banished writers shifted tothe moral or philosophical essay so as to raise some questions likeallegiance to religion, to the homeland, or to political ideologies.This research paper seeks to examine critically the theme of travelas it is developed in various books as well as a comparison andcontrast context of such books with the book “The Innocent Abroad”by Mark Twain. The paper will offer a context on the majordifferences or similarities in the theme of travel in Mark Twain’sbook and three other books identified as consistent with the theme oftravel.

The book“Empire of Signs” by Roland Barthes

This bookprovides a wide-ranging meditation on iconography, art, culture,society, language and literature. In simple terms, the book providesboth sign-oriented fantasies and realities of Japan. As the title ofthe book suggests, the book comprises of a collection of observationson Japan according to the author as he visited the country during theyear 1966. One can read, enjoy and interpret the book in various waysdepending on the reader’s interest or preference. However, the mostdominant theme that keeps on recurring in this book is the theme ofemptiness. For instance, Barthes describes the capital city of Japan,Tokyo, as an “empty city” or a city having an “empty center”(30). This is contrary to the Western countries’ cities that theauthor depicts as being always full. The author goes on to describethe cities in the Western countries “It is here that the values ofcivilization are gathered and condensed, language, money, power,spirituality and merchandise” (Barthes, 30). With this regard, theauthor is convinced that the Western culture is more civilized thanother cultures in the world.

There is also ashort poem in the book called the “haiku” poem. Similarly, inthis poem there is the theme of emptiness as described by the author.The word “haiku” simply means “nothing”. This means that theauthor emphasizes further the attribute of emptiness in travel in theentirety of the poem. The haiku poem entices or invites one tointerpret it according to one’s interest. Moreover, since the poemis itself “empty”, it can be interpreted in any manner and theinterpreter will lose nothing in doing so. However, Bathers is awareof his own status in Japan as a tourist. This implies that Barthes isa foreigner in that country throughout the book. With this regard,the theme of orientalism is also portrayed in this book. Forinstance, while walking in Tokyo’s streets, Barthes takes pleasurein unfamiliar cadences of speech, rhythms and sounds. In general, theauthor has successfully used poetry to pass the message across toreaders. Moreover, the poems in this book provide the reader with anopportunity of interpreting them according to one’s interest.

Just likeBarthes’ book “Empire of Signs”, the book by Mark Twain “TheInnocent Abroad” also provides a contextual analysis andobservation on the account of the author as he travels from theUnited States to Hawaii, the Middle East, and Europe. Therefore, itis arguably true that both these books are about travel literature.However, the observations in Barthes’ book are only concentrated inone country, which is Japan, whilst Twain’s book presents theobservation of various cultures. Both authors offer a discourse onthe theme of travel remarkably thus, the reader has a glimpse ofdifferent places in the mentioned countries. “Empire of Signs”provides a descriptive look on Japan and the different sceneries thatone can find in Japan while “Innocent Abroad” offers adescriptive analysis on travel outside one’s know zone. Similarly,Twain’s book is fictional and partly real just like Barthes’ bookwhich provides both fantasies and realities of Japan. Additionally,the author provides various accounts of his travel in a hilarious andinteresting manner about justice, art, traditions, society andculture. However, Twain’s book compares the author’s experiencewith the one described in the guidebook. This is contrary to Barthes’book in which the author compares his experience in the Japan withthat in the experience in the Western countries. Throughout the book,Barthes discusses what the protagonist undergoes in Japan andcompares that experience to what people in Western Countries undergowhile Twain show experiences in various countries as well as offer acomparison to what guide books offer about the mentioned countries.

The book “The Narrow Road to the Deep North,and Other Travel Sketches by Matsuo Basho

In thisbook, Basho describes the world using “haiku” poems with greatdelicacy of feeling and simplicity. This is also another travelliterature in which the author tries to describe the differencesbetween the Japanese and the Western culture. The book offers atraveler experience and compares that experience with what travels inWestern Countries undergo. In fact, the book bears a remarkablecomparison with Barthes’ book in that both books offer a travelexperience of Japan. However, the theme of travel in Basho’s bookdiffers from other books in that Basho offers a different reason fortravel as compared to reasons offered by other authors. In fact, thetravel literature expressed in Basho’s work is quite different fromother literatures. According to Basho (29), few people merely travelfor pastime or pleasure. On the contrary, Basho’s travel as aBuddhist pilgrimage and to reduce attachments to habits, friends andhome. With this regard, it is arguably true that Basho’s travel isassociated with some form of exile. The exilic experience isportrayed in the sense that some circumstances had forced Basho toleave his home and country to the foreign country. It is worth notingthat the Buddhist monks during Basho’s time were often referred toas “water &amp cloud monks”. This implies that these Buddhistsmonks were expected to be unattached and free just like water runningdown a slope or like the clouds in the sky.

Elsewhere in thebook, Basho describes the loneliness felt when one embarks on a longjourney from his home country. In this case, the poet endured manydays of rain, making it impossible to travel because of mud. The poetis also lonely to an extent of being unable to write even a letter.This further underscores the exilic experience that the poetundergoes on the journey. On the contrary, Twain’s book describes ahilarious journey that is very interesting as the author journeysfrom the U.S. to Hawaii, the Middle East, and Europe. In general,both books are about travel to foreign counties. Another contrastbetween Basho’s book and Twain’s book is that the two books havedifferent central themes. In Basho’s book, the central them thatkeeps on recurring throughout the book is emptiness. As it has beennoted, the poet portrays the theme of conflict emptiness in variousaspects using poems. On the other hand, the central theme in Twain’sbook is the theme of conflict between the modern world and history.In this case, the narrator is faced with various trivializations andprofiteering of history as the journey continues. As a result, thenarrator is bored, puzzled, or outraged by such encounters. In thisregards, the book offers a puzzled and outraged experience, whichhelp reveal the major difference between this book and “InnocentAbroad”. While other books offer a remarkable and pleasantexperience, Basho’s book offer a puzzled and livid experience asshaped by travel, which reflects the differences in contexts andexplanations.

The book “Persian Letters” by MargaretMauldon

The“Persian Letters” is an evocative novel-in-letters describing thestory about three Persian friends, Rhedi, Rica and Usbek, who lefttheir country in order to go to the foreign country. They had lefttheir home country of Iran to go to Europe to search for wisdom.While travelling, they write letters to the eunuchs and wives at homeand to their friends living in France and other countries. Theyobserve various differences between the East and West cultures. As aresult, the three noblemen realized that the Eastern culture wascharacterized by cruelty and repression. On the contrary, the threerealized that the Western culture freer and more civilized that theirhome culture. In general, tourism is the theme portrayed by this bookbecause the purpose of leaving their home country was to studyEurope’s institutions and manners. It is thus arguably true thatsuch Persians went into Europe as tourists. For instance, Mauldon(241) describes that the three friends realized that the religiousculture in Europe was very different from the one they were used toback in their home country.

However, satireis the central literally device in the book in that the WesternCulture is Sterilized throughout the book. This satire is portrayedas the there Persians travel to Europe and make a number ofobservations regarding the French society. It should be noted thattheir observations are made from foreigners’ perspective. Forexample, satire is portrayed in the manner in which Rica observes theforeign society. In the light of this, Rica alleged that France’sKing was richer than Spain’s King. This is satire in that despitethe fact that the King of Spain owned a lot of mines of silver and ofgold the King of France was relatively wealthier than the King ofSpain. Through the use of satire, the author exposes and ridiculesthe vices that were inherent in the French society. It is worthnoting that satire is refers to the literally device that utilizesboth humor and irony in ridiculing the practices of people, politicsand society. With this regard, the author successfully uses satire tocondemn unjust practices that were inherent in the French society.This could have not been the case if the author had decided to usedirect denunciation of such practices.

Incomparison with Twain’s book, it is arguably true that both booksare classified as travel literatures. Similarly, just like Mauldon’sbook, one of the destinations of the narrator in Twain’s book isEurope. Additionally, there is conflict between the Eastern and theWestern cultures in Mauldon’s book as there is conflict between themodern world and history in Twain’s book. Similarly, Twain’s bookalso addresses the aspects of religion in the United States. In thiscase, the narrator particularly pays a significant amount ofattention to the Catholic Church in the country. In particular, thenarrator ridicules the institutionalized nature of the CatholicChurch. This is similar to Mauldon’s book since in this book inwhich the Western religion is sharply contrasted with EasternReligion. However, satire is lacking in Twain’s book because thenarrator directly condemns the wrongful practices in the society.Particularly, the narrator directly denounces the need for havingmonuments that have been crafted by people who had died long timeago. As a result, some people might find these statements to beoffending to them.


It hasbeen established that the genre of travel literature entails mountainliterature, exploration literature, as well as outdoor literatureamong others. Regarding the books on travel literature, the theme ofexile and tourism are the most dominant themes in the books. Theauthors of these books have used exilic experiences in order toportray various cultures. In this case, the narrators have broughtout the differences existing between various cultures. Mostimportantly, these cultural differences have been described from theperspectives of foreigners. On the other hand, the foreign culturehas been described using both fiction and reality. Particularly, thedifferences in cultures between the capital city of Japan and thecapital city of the Western country have been expressed vividly. Insome instances, the theme of travel is portrayed to be similar to thetheme of tourism.

The theme of exile is portrayed when some authors decide to leavetheir home countries to the foreign countries for various reasons. Onthe contrary, the theme of tourism is portrayed when the author,narrator or poet leaves the home country for the foreign countriesmerely for pleasure of pastime. In this regards, the reason fortravel presents the authors with different experiences regardingtheir travel time hence, the major differences in the books arisesfrom the experience attained. Whichever the case, the foreignexperiences vary from one individual to the other depending on thehome country. While some authors have experienced loneliness in theforeign countries, others have found such experiences to befascinating and interesting. Moreover, some cultures have beenridiculed by the use of satire.


Barthes Roland. Empire of Signs. New York: Hill and Wang,1983. Print.

Basho Matsuo. The Narrow Road to the Deep North, and Other TravelSketches. New York: Penguin, 1966. Print.

Mauldon Margaret. Persian Letters. New York: Oxford UniversityPress, 2008. Print.

Speake Jenifer.Literature of travel and Exploration: An Encyclopedia. NewYork: Routledge, 2014. Online.

Twain Mark. TheInnocent Abroad: Or the New Pilgrim Process. New York: SignetClassic, 1966.