A Review on Howard Fast’s “Spartacus”

            “Spartacus” by Howard Fast novel is a story that opposes the scientific fact that two bodies cannot exist in the same place. The story in the book is more justified than the movie “Spartacus” by Kirk Douglas, which gives a classic view of the story (Fast 47). The novel describes how the Romans fought for their freedom and the difficulties they faced as slaves before gaining freedom after the fall of Spartacus. Spartacus is sold as a third generation slave to fight for Roman’s happiness in the gladiator school. He is depicted to cause an enormous slave rebellion that almost tears the republic into pieces.

The novel talks about the emergence of the rebellion and its effects on Roman’s thinking who dominantly were dependant on slave trade even after the formation of a republic. The story unfolds with the winners of the servile war reminiscing about the defeat of the Spartacus. Rome seems to have grown morally now compared to its past that was punctuated with immorality.

Howard Fast uses characters in the book to come up with his story. Both active and dormant characters play a role in the making up of a concrete story plot of the novel. Crassus is depicted as brutal, corporal, covetous and merciless. He is the general who played a big role in crushing “Spartacus” rebellion, hence is referred as the hero in the republic or “The Bronze Hawk of the Republic”. Cicero is depicted as a schemer and a historian philosopher who makes important use of opportunities to have his flukes put in place (Fast 92). Gracchus is used to portray change in the society as his pessimistic nature makes him conform to the evil and immoral behavior of the society. The few Roman characters are depicted as the worst in the story as they are wicked, parasitic, treacherous, and desperate to increase their wealth, victims of slavery, unsuccessful, unproductive and powerless. The common folks of the city are not left out as Howard Fast portrays them as sluggish, ferocious, unscrupulous group of people who live a cheap life, poor role models to their children and as practitioners of sex trade.

Contrast is depicted in the story as the slaves are given an image of being holy and righteous by their suffering state. This is because of the fact that their behaviors change after sometime in the rebellion that they hold. Spartacus himself takes a spiritually upright religious image like that of Jesus. Varinia, Spartacus lover, is shown to be caring and with a motherly attitude. The Jewish gladiator, David, is also given a contrasting image of being hate-filled and a big assistant to Spartacus. Contrast is also portrayed in the novel by the fact that the slaves lead a completely different life after gaining freedom. They share their property keeping no excess of what they need, living in equality like brothers and sisters. The importance of contrast in the book is to bring out the difference between the lives of the Romans before and after acquiring freedom. In addition, Contrast has been used to depict a theme of transformation in the novel.

Howard Fast uses metaphor in the plot development of his  novel. Rome is metaphoric in the sense that, the modern day capitalists are set to be the Romans in the story, the current generation working class are the slaves (Fast 110). His plot development backs can be said to endorse Marxist idea of capitalism and communism. The rise of the socialists is not because of power or strength but because of their righteousness. This backs up the religious dogma that states, “Righteousness overcomes physical strength”.

Howard Fast uses his writing skills to create a prose that gives a right definition of the ancient Rome. This has led to the success of “Spartacus” a factor that makes the story a perfect fiction of ancient Rome. The business streets used by hawkers, the tired and mistreated slaves, the disciplinary camps, the gladiatorial blood spattered arenas, the sweating gladiators, the lavish good life of the slave holders give the true and vivid picture of the ancient Rome described by Howard Fast (Trumbo 39). The story shows that Howard was able to avoid the Old Dutch ascent in his writing, a fact that makes “Spartacus” interesting and entertaining to the people who read it.

Spartacus has a solid history in its real story but in Howard Fast’s novel, it seems to be different because he does not define Pompey’s role in Spartacus defeat and that the slaves had an open chance to elope to Italy through the Alps but instead they decided to hang around looting the Roman Cities (Trumbo 129). This gave Crassus an opportunity to destroy them. Howard Fast forgets this point, insisting that the slaves overcame greed and did not want anymore than they needed for themselves. He also portrays the slaves as less malicious and cruel than they really were. This has no big effect on the story though it makes it less inspiring. He should have made it clear that picking a side by the slaves was not a difficult issue.

Irony has also been used in making the plot of the story. The politics in the book are ironical as he uses false ideology: Poverty does not make man righteous but rather more immoral. Wealth on the other side is supposed to make man more saint than evil (Fast 73). The victory of Crass also appears to be ironical and disgusting because his bad and unfair attitude did not deserve victory. In conclusion, “Spartacus” gives out the intended message by Howard Fast that after a long-suffering, happiness must follow suit. In this case, happiness is portrayed by the freedom that the Romans acquired while the suffering is shown by them being slaves.





Works Cited:

Fast, Howard. Spartacus. Mt Airy, MD: M.E. Sharpe.1996. Print.

Schenkkan, Robert& Fast, Howard. Spartacus: Night One. Nyack, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2003. Print.

Trumbo, Dalton& Fast, Howard. Spartacus: Screenplay. Pittsfield, MA: M.E. Sharpe, 1959. Print.


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