J.G. Farrell’s Empire Novels
The decline and fall of the human condition
Despite its name, the real subject of J.G. Farrell’s three-and-a-half-book Empire Series is not the British empire, but the human condition, a state characterized by ‘fall’ – like the empire, like the human race itself according to the biblical story of the Fall from Eden.
Farrell lets us know that this is his primary interest by naming one of his major characters, a dog, The Human Condition. He actually uses the falling empire as an overarching metaphor, as well as a rich source of imagery and incidents, to illustrate the worsening human situation, as characterized by ‘Ehrendorf’s Second Law' in Farrell’s book The Singapore grip, which is part of the series: 'The human situation, in general and in particular, is slightly worse (ignoring an occasional hiccup in the graph) at any given moment than at any preceding moment.'
In Farrell’s darkly funny books, all sorts of things, concrete and abstract, display independent wills with which they oppose the will of human beings. Ideas, symbols, ceremonies, human communication, human bodies, lands and possessions all act as rebels or subversives to undermine the human condition.
Rebecca Ziegler is Associate Professor Emerita at Georgia Southern University.