Turkish Studies - International Periodical For The Languages, Literature and History of Turkish or Turkic
Volume 9/9 Summer 2014, p. 945-952, ANKARA-TURKEY
INSTITUTIONS OF FAMILY AND MARRIAGE AS SOCIAL
VICES IN MAJOR WORKS OF OĞUZ ATAY*
Yiğit SÜMBÜL**
ABSTRACT
Oğuz Atay has managed to place himself among the forerunners
of modernist and post-modernist Turkish novel with his mastery of
Turkish language and groundbreaking style which was unfamiliar to the
Turkish readership in the second half of the 20th century. Highly
influenced by such Western modernist authors as Joyce, Proust,
Nabokov and Dostoevsky, Atay reflects the experiences of contemporary
Turkish intellectuals such as ‘nothingness’, inbetweenness, search for
the meaning of existence and disconnectedness from society in the
chaotic social and political atmosphere of his time. Atay’s intellectuals
revolt against traditional social and political institutions and their
people’s blindness to their nation’s underdevelopment in the global
sense with feelings of responsibility and guilt.
Among the social institutions Atay criticizes, traditional
institutions of family and marriage come to the fore. Atay views these
social obligations as burdens on the intellectual men’s shoulders which
blunt their potentials as the saviours of the nation. In this respect,
Atay’s intellectual characters have to isolate themselves from familial
and marital concerns to achieve the virtue of ‘disconnectedness’. In
Atay’s major works, it is clearly seen that each intellectual character
declares an open war against their families for the sake of achieving
greater goals.
Key Words: Oğuz Atay, disconnectedness, intellectual, social
institutions, marriage, family
* This
article has been extracted from the author’s thesis submitted to Erciyes University’s Institute of Social Sciences on
February 14, 2014 under the title “A Comparative Study on the Portrayals of Modern Intellectuals in Major Works of
James Joyce and Oğuz Atay”.
Bu makale Crosscheck sistemi tarafından taranmış ve bu sistem sonuçlarına göre orijinal bir makale olduğu tespit
edilmiştir.
** Arş. Gör. Erciyes Üniversitesi Edebiyat Fakültesi İngiliz Dili ve Edebiyatı Bölümü, El-mek: [email protected]
946
Yiğit SÜMBÜL
OĞUZ ATAY’IN BAŞLICA ESERLERİNDE BİRER SOSYAL
KUSUR OLARAK AİLE VE EVLİLİK KURUMLARI
ÖZET
Oğuz Atay Türkçe’yi kullanmadaki ustalığı ve 20. yüzyılın ikinci
yarısındaki okurlara oldukça yabancı olan tekniğiyle kendisini
modernist ve post modernist Türk edebiyatının öncüleri arasına
koymayı başarmıştır. Batı edebiyatının ünlü modernist yazarlarından
James Joyce, Marcel Proust, Vladimir Nabokov ve Fyodor Dostoyevski
gibi isimlerden oldukça etkilenmiş olan Oğuz Atay eserlerinde çağdaş
Türk aydınlarının arada kalmışlık, hiçlik gibi duygularıyla varoluşsal
anlam
arayışlarını
ve
bu
sürecin
sonucundaki
toplumdan
soyutlanmalarını, başka bir deyişle tutunamamalarını zamanının kaotik
sosyal ve politik atmosferi ışığında yansıtmaktadır. Oğuz Atay’ın
aydınları genellikle geleneksel sosyal ve politik kurumlara ve halkın
uluslarının geri kalmışlığına karşı gözlerini kapatmış olmasına karşı
büyük bir sorumluluk ve suçluluk duygusuyla baş kaldırmaktadır.
Atay’ın eleştirdiği sosyal oluşumlar arasında geleneksel aile ve
evlilik gibi müesseseler en başlarda gelmektedir. Ona göre bu sosyal
zorunluluklar aydın bireyin, -ki bu aydın birey yazarın metinlerinde her
zaman bir erkektir- omzunda bir yüktür ve bu yük onun ulusun
kurtarıcısı olarak sahip olduğu yetenekleri ve potansiyellerini
köreltmektedir. Bu bağlamda, Atay’ın aydın karakterleri ‘tutunamama’
erdemine ulaşabilmek için ilk olarak kendilerini aileleri ve evlilikleri ile
ilgili yükümlülüklerden soyutlamak zorundadır. Yazarın başlıca
eserlerinde de görüleceği gibi, her aydın karakter daha büyük hedeflere
ulaşabilmek için ilk başta bu gibi sosyal müesseselere savaş ilan
etmiştir.
Anahtar Kelimeler: Oğuz Atay, tutunamama, aydın, sosyal
kurumlar, evlilik, aile
Family and Marriage as Social Vices in Major Works of Oğuz Atay
Atay’s relation to the Western tradition of modernist literature is the most remarkable one
among his contemporaries in Turkey. Influenced by Joyce, Kafka, Dostoyevsky, Nabokov and
Proust, Atay imitates thematic and stylistic aspects of such authors. Atay, in this respect, becomes
one of the forerunners of the new tradition in Turkey and introduces his nation with the new wave
of literature dominating the world.1 When it comes to Turkish literature, Atay’s influence on his
contemporaries has been immense, as he is among the first writers who break away with the
traditional Anatolian realism using European techniques and themes. Ahmet Ümit, one of the
contemporary Turkish novelists, asserts that “Atay’s heroes are the modern noncompatible Don
Atay’s novels have constantly been compared to the works of these novelists, especially Joyce. It is commonly known
that Atay wrote his first novel The Disconnected as a response to Joyce’s Ulysses. See: Mümtaz SARIÇİÇEK. (2009).
“Ulysses ve Tutunamayanlar’ın Karşılaştırmalı İncelemesi / A Comparative Study on Ulysses and The Disconnected”,
TURKISH STUDIES -International Periodical for the Languages, Literature and History of Turkish or Turkic-, ISSN:
1308-2140, Volume 4 /1-I Winter 2009, pp. 529-560.
See also: Serdar Odacı. (2009). “Ulysses ve Tutunamayanlar’da Bilinçakışı Tekniği / The Technique of Stream-ofconsciousness in Ulysses and Tutunamayanlar”, TURKISH STUDIES -International Periodical for the Languages,
Literature and History of Turkish or Turkic-, ISSN: 1308-2140, Volume 4 /1-I Winter 2009, pp. 605-684.
1
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International Periodical For the Languages, Literature and History of Turkish or Turkic
Volume 9/9 Summer 2014
Family And Marriage As Social Vices In Major Works Of Oğuz Atay
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Quixotes living in our country. These heroes, who are so stubborn in that they stand alone and
defend their own realities leading to their own destruction, witness the universal fate of the modern
individuals” (2007:53). Atay opens a new era in Turkish literature followed by generations of
young writers, who turn their attention to the innovations in literature without breaking away from
their roots. Atay’s mastery in modernist and post-modernist techniques influences famous writers
such as Yusuf Atılgan and Orhan Pamuk. After the sudden death of Oğuz Atay in 1977, Turkish
literature undergoes a drastic change. As for the characters dominating Turkish literature, the air of
modernism has always remained effective on fiction. However, Atay’s intellectual characters need
to be extensively delineated to identify the major traits of ‘outcast’ intellectuals of his literature.
In his works, Atay gives voice to the modern man’s, mostly intellectuals’, spiritual
paralysis, identity crisis, reactions to social institutions and self-sacrifice for the sake of their
nations and people. Atay’s intellectuals are clearly interwoven with autobiographical elements to
some extent. As one of the intellectuals himself during the troublesome 70s in Turkey, the author
feels the necessity of an intellectual action to stop the nation’s nondevelopment, to enlighten the
common people and to guide them out of the social, political and cultural darkness and paralysis.
As Atay suffers a lot from his people’s blindness and unquestioning resignation to the present
situation of their nation, he isolates himself from his people and gives voice to the socially
alienated intellectuals in his literature as a means of getting his voice heard by the masses. For that
purpose, Atay draws his intellectual characters with common personal traits and values like their
alienation from society, their deep social and political consciousness regarding their nation and
their breakaway with social conventions like family and marriage in this long process.
As Atay’s major works cannot be thought to be totally free from autobiographical sources,
his views regarding the social conventions like traditional family structures, and marriages
burdened on modern intellectuals can be traced through his major works. Furthermore, biographical
accounts about the author also indicate that Atay as an intellectual suffers a lot due to problematic
familial relations and his short-lived entanglement with the opposite sex, including his short
marriage to Fikriye Gürbüz. For instance, before his literary career starts, Atay decides to move
into another apartment; probably as he views his family and the domestic environment as a
crippling factor on his intellectual development. He isolates himself into a secluded flat in Istanbul
and the production of his first two novels coincides with this social estrangement.
Obviously, the free-spirited intellectual finds the chance to fly towards infinite horizons as
a result of his breakaway with social conventions; which is exemplified in Atay’s fiction in detail.
As an example to this, Ecevit observes that Atay bases the love triangle in his second novel
Dangerous Games on his simultaneous marriage with Fikriye Gürbüz and his attachment to Sevin
Seydi, by which he gets distanced to the opposite sex totally after a feeling of inbetweenness and
disappointment. In the novel, Hikmet Benol also feels such entrapment between female figures,
both of whom he loves in some senses. Atay’s depiction of Sevgi, in the novel, resembles his
feelings towards his short-dated wife Fikriye; and Bilge echoes Sevin Seydi whom he is secretly in
love with (Ecevit, 2011:132). Such troublesome experiences of heart leave the intellectual in a
much more complicated mental state and Atay, very much like Hikmet in the novel, ends up with a
total scepticism towards marriage and love. Atay reflects such troubles and breakaways in his
major works and depicts family, marriage and love as burdens on intellectuals’ shoulders, which
cripple their creativity. In all cases, Atay’s intellectuals achieve their true identities after their
disengagements from their families, separation from wives and lovers and freedom from domestic
concerns. In this respect, the aim of this article is to point out that Oğuz Atay deliberately describes
such social institutions as family and marriage as social vices in intellectual men’s lives and such
attachments must be eliminated by the intellectuals in order to achieve greater goal in modern life.
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Yiğit SÜMBÜL
Atay coins the term ‘disconnectedness’, creates a character type with it and names his first
novel after this concept. The term refers to the modern man’s isolation, separation and
disconnection from society and all other social institutions, mostly due to the lack of meaning and
loss of values in the external world. With this term, Atay usually describes a class of people, who
feel suffocated due to the social and moral values rapidly changing as a result of the process of
modernization, the political chaos dominating the nation and the dilemma between the west and the
east. These people are almost always selected amongst a certain group of people above the average
level of educatedness and social consciousness; as the rest is very much occupied with their
survival out of this political, economic and social chaos in Turkey in the second half of the 20th
century. However, Atay’s conception of ‘disconnected’ individuals always excludes women who
could be classified as ‘connected’ individuals of secondary importance in the modern Turkish
society. Atay’s conception of the term also implies that women constantly interfere in men’s lives
through old-fashioned traditions and social institutions like family and marriage, which results in
distortion of the intellectuals’ potentials for greater causes like development of the country,
education of citizens and enlightenment of the Great Turkish nation:
According to Atay, the married woman is a symbol of traditionalism, the bourgeois
life style; she is an obstructive element that plays a negative role in man’s
development and functions to reduce him to material reality; she is the one who
must be escaped and avoided. The functions of Nermin in The Disconnected, Sevgi
in Dangerous Games, Cemile in Those who Live by Games are all the same in each
work: to represent the ongoing social order (Ecevit, 1989:69).
In Atay’s first novel, The Disconnected (1972), Turgut Özben experiences such suffocation
under pre-established social conventions and isolates himself from his wife and children. Years
after he establishes a regular, traditional domestic order, Turgut learns that his best friend Selim has
committed suicide; and this news comes as a huge blow on his petit-bourgeois life standards and it
shakes him off his years-long trivial pursuits as a trapped intellectual. In his letter to Turgut, Selim
has said: “my life was a game that I wanted to be taken seriously. You got married and spoilt the
game” (Atay, 2012c:31) Turgut, then, starts questioning his marriage to Nermin.
In the novel, voices of major female figures, such as Nermin and Günseli, are constantly
suppressed by the narrations of either Selim or Turgut. Furthermore, these characters are always
refused independent identities and identified only in relation to their male companions: Nermin as
Turgut’s wife, Günseli as Selim’s girlfriend and Aysel as Esat’s sister. For instance, Irzık claims
that Günseli, in The Disconnected, only speaks through Selim’s language within Turgut’s
framework. For her, Günseli only conveys Selim’s words to us and “her voice is borrowed by a
dead man throughout the narrative. Her speech is dominated thoroughly by Selim’s language. In
the mean time, the little pun employed by the author functions as a symbol of such process: Günseli Günseli seli seli Selim Selim!” (265). Yavuz, on the other hand, points out that the male
voice also suppresses Nermin’s speech in the novel:
Nermin is described within Turgut’s framework as a woman who possesses petitbourgeois tastes and belongs to the world of the ‘connected’ throughout the novel.
With such character traits, she is excluded from men’s world and cannot be related
to the general cause of the novel due to her own attitude and choices. In short, she
cannot internalize ‘disconnectedness’ very much like the other female characters in
the novel (2011:56-7).
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In opposition to such bourgeois mannerisms, Turgut begins to feel a certain degree of
nausea on the triviality of anything he encounters like J.P. Sartre’s famous character Roquentin.2
After he gets Selim’s letter, Turgut’s regular sleep routine also changes and he starts complaining
about his wife sleeping next to him: “Perhaps, she doesn’t really exist; the thing lying next to me is
perhaps just a bunch of hair. [...] What a pity! Humans do not get the shapes in our dreams” (32).
As a result of these feelings, Turgut later leaves his wife, children and the artificial lifestyle behind
and sets off to get closer to Selim by only taking his books with him. Atay obviously draws a
parallel between his own family life and Turgut’s. They are both intellectuals who are engineers in
official posts, which provides them with sufficient income to afford a big flat, to look after children
and to give a prosperous life to their wives. However, both intellectuals achieve their spiritual
fulfilment only after they break their connection with such involvements.
Similarly, Atay’s second novel, Dangerous Games, presents another example for the
Turkish intellectuals who get suffocated under social conventions, institution of marriage or
fruitless attempts of love. What actually bothers Hikmet most is the regret of the dilemma he feels
between his marriage to Sevgi and attachment for Bilge. His unhappy marriage with Sevgi and
unsatisfied desires for Bilge are narrated to the reader by Atay with all the sincerity and
outspokenness Hikmet has. Atay dictates every single detail in his creation of Hikmet to himself in
the notes on his personal diary. He states that Hikmet “takes shelter in Sevgi’s hands and
surrenders in the beginning. Yet, what Sevgi wants is something different. She wants to see a man
next to her, a self-conscious man acting like real men in public” (2012a:54). Besides not appealing
to Sevgi’s tastes for an ideal husband, Hikmet does not answer to the expectations of Bilge, either.
What Hikmet thinks about the institution of marriage and married people, which is also shaped
upon his unhappy and hopeless marriage with Sevgi, is also highly realistic and heart-breaking:
There is no beauty in disorderly lives. You can feel the smell of hardheartedness
everywhere in the house. A married but lonely man does not know what to do after
he comes home from the burdens of a busy, irritating and suffocating day. He
cannot find any tranquilizing detail while he is burning with his rage to take the
revenge of all those disdain and abasement. He takes his revenge from the clothes
he takes off in a fit of anger (2010:148).
Hikmet always feels crushed under the fact that he could never approach Bilge during his
marriage with Sevgi. His obsessive attachment to Bilge makes him feel that everything would be
different if he had conquered her heart. On the other hand, he does not deem himself worthy of
such rewards and happiness: “What would Bilge do with me? I don’t know what to do with
myself” (160). This situation is reflected on his character as a feeling of uselessness and high
melancholy. Demiralp gives perhaps the best description of Hikmet in one of his articles. He takes
the names of the two ladies as allegorical, as Sevgi means ‘love’ and Bilge means ‘wise’ in
Turkish. For him, Hikmet is doomed to lose all the time, and he lacks love (Sevgi) in his
relationship with Sevgi and Wisdom (Bilgelik) with Bilge (1978:12). Having been disappointed
with love affairs, Hikmet rejects all responsibility and escapes.3 He begins to complete every single
unfinished business within his mind in his ‘shanty’ world and to get rid of his feeling of regret in
this way. For Atay, Hikmet is incapable of finishing any affair he half-heartedly gets involved in:
“He perhaps feels that bringing things to a conclusion metaphorically means death for him. He
escapes all deaths by leaving many lives unfinished” (2012b:56).
2
Antoine Roquentin: The protagonist who feels a deep nausea and psychological collapse upon the triviality of human
reality in French writer-philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre’s famous novel Nausea. .
3 For a similar assessment, please see: Veysel Şahin. (2013). “Oğuz Atay’ın Romanlarında Toplumsal
Yabancılaşma/Social Isolation in Oğuz Atay’s Novels”, TURKISH STUDIES -International Periodical for the
Languages, Literature and History of Turkish or Turkic-, ISSN: 1308-2140, Volume 8/9 Summer 2013, p. 2317.
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Yiğit SÜMBÜL
Coşkun Ermiş, the protagonist of Atay’s only dramatic work, Those who Live by Games,
also shares similar concerns with Atay’s other intellectuals regarding marriage and family as an
obstacle before his intellectual and spiritual development. The biggest problem shaping Coşkun’s
character is that he does not deem his life suitable for his standards as an intellectual man. His
marriage to Cemile, responsibilities as a father and his passive position in the domestic sphere
cripple his potentials as a free-thinking intellectual and a playwright. “He has got married to
Cemile just because he did not know what he wanted. He has done that because Cemile told him he
was important while everyone else humiliated him” (2012b:108). Not considering himself sitting
well with this kind of life, Coşkun always tries to keep his mind busy with any possible pursuits.
The plays he has been writing for some time bring him a new environment and new friends. One of
Coşkun’s best friends, Saffet introduces Coşkun to Servet, owner of a private theatre company, and
Emel, a young actress. Having seen the reflection of the unfulfilled desires of his past in the eyes of
Emel, Coşkun gets one step further from his home. His meeting with Emel means an opportunity
for him to compensate a life wasted away. When compared to Cemile, Emel appears as a younger,
more beautiful, cultured and free-spirited lady, which best meet Coşkun’s expectations. Emel
comes as a glimmer of hope for Coşkun to satisfy his unfinished passions. Although Emel is
younger than him, Coşkun gets positive responses to his affection most probably due to his
maturity and abilities to write drama. Just like Turgut and Hikmet, Coşkun also vents all his pains
on his marriage as a result of his ‘disconnectedness’. However, he experiences even this secret
affair with Emel as if living in another game he himself created. He runs away from home twice
and fails in both of them. After the last disappointment he faces, his heart, which has not been in
good condition lately, plays a game against him this time; and Coşkun dies a sudden death at the
end of the play.
Lastly, Prof. Server Gözbudak, the protagonist of Atay’s last novel The Science of Action,
bears the traces of the bad influences of and impressions on the institution of marriage and
traditional family. This alienated intellectual, also echoing Atay himself, reflects his views about
marriage and family, which he sees as a trouble in his life, in negative terms. He confesses that the
person to whom he most frequently reflected his troubles and concerns is his wife: “Only one
person has been waiting in terror for this outburst from me: my wife” (2012a:48). Apart from the
fact that his wife knows him well, Prof. Gözbudak also mentions his wife while talking about his
monotonous domestic life. The bills to be paid, the monotonous order of dinners had together
everyday, the same conversation around the table, the same TV programs and instalments, etc. The
life of a professor is comfortable, but boring. Consequently, the intellectual person cannot get
satisfied with such a standard of life. In one of these subsequent nights, he resembles a young
actress in a movie to one of the students he always makes a point of in the classroom. Just like
Coşkun Ermiş in Atay’s play Those who Live by Games, he realizes his feeling of longing for the
unfulfilled dreams. He confesses that this beautiful, young lady influenced him deeply as: “I saw
her face in mid-rows of the class: she was looking at me. Her eyes were dark coloured. She was not
paying attention to the lecture. Then, I must have thought that her eyes were dangerous. I guess, I
wanted to forget those eyes” (60). After turning back to the real world from his dreams, Server
Gözbudak remembers his duties and responsibilities as a family man.
However, while talking about his responsibilities, Prof. Gözbudak never makes mention of
his wife saying: “I have instalments to pay and two kids to look after” (60). This statement
indicates his distanced stance towards the institution of marriage. At the end of the unfinished
novel, the professor remembers his domestic life once again after his meeting with this young lady
named Semra in a party. He states that his wife asks too many questions and he feels anxiety and
fear in his household. With the statement “The house was a disturbance to me” (112), he reveals
that he has been suffocating under this trouble. Server Gözbudak, however, seems to have forgotten
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all these troubles when he takes Semra out for a drink and dance after the party. When Atay’s diary
notes are carefully analyzed, it is easy to realize that what Atay intends to create is a professor
Gözbudak beyond the traits mentioned above, but with intentions of living a furtive life outside
home and work. In these notes, Atay states about the professor that “he falters in an anti-social and
climacteric life style which stems from his illegitimate affairs and rapid changes of women coming
in and out of his life” (2012b:268). Although this intellectual is planned to be living a double life,
the readers can only see the professor’s identity as a man of education in this unfinished novel.
Unfortunately, Atay does not have enough time for writing about the active social life of the
professor though sketched out beforehand. In the biographical study on Atay, Ecevit writes that
“the novel is left half-finished at the point when the second identity of the professor shaped by a
heavy fondness of the opposite sex and entertainment begins to be put down on paper” (2011:525).
These statements and the character portrayed complete the general picture of the unsuccessful
marriages in the whole Atay literature, as can also be seen in the cases of Turgut, Hikmet and
Coşkun.
As a conclusion, thus, it can be argued that Atay aims to give the message that female
voices are, and should be, eliminated by the male voice and female identities must be digested into
the male ones in a patriarchal society. In Atay’s major works, overindulgence in the family habits
and female routine means degeneration for the intellectual man; and women are the agents of the
bourgeois routine always trying to cripple men’s devotion to greater causes. As can be observed
from the abovementioned texts, Atay’s female characters and the familial atmosphere are always
described in negative terms. Atay’s ‘disconnected’ intellectuals have a strong social consciousness
and feeling of responsibility for the future prosperity of their nation, they sacrifice themselves for
the sake of their nation’s enlightenment and wellbeing.
The fact that Atay himself is born into a generation that begins to take the west as a role
model in national development both in science and arts causes a great conflict for his intellectuals
who are condemned to betray the glory of their ancestors and turn to the West. That is why almost
all disconnected intellectuals in Atay’s literature are alienated from society into a kind of private
self, looking for meaning and a way out of this inbetweenness. Under such great assignments and
inner conflicts, family life and marriage turn out to be nothing more than waste of time for these
intellectuals. In fact, Atay’s intellectuals characters are always granted the virtue of
‘disconnectedness’ the moment they finally manage to save themselves from familial and marital
trivialities. Atay openly declares war against traditional social institutions like family and marriage
for the sake of personal, intellectual and national development and freedom of thought.
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Turkish Studies
International Periodical For the Languages, Literature and History of Turkish or Turkic
Volume 9/9 Summer 2014
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