Ian McEwan and Liberal Humanism: A Reading of Saturday

Document Type : Research Paper


1 Associate Professor of English Literature, Faculty of Foreign Languages, University of Isfahan, Isfahan, Iran

2 MA of English Literarure, Faculty of Foreign Languages, University of Isfahan, Isfahan, Iran


This article tries to examine Ian McEwan’s Saturday in terms of its ideological orientation. The writers argue that Saturday’s essentially pro-war – pro-Establishment – stance can be explained in terms of liberal humanist views which the novel by and large espouses. The novel, the writers contend, in a sense reflects and is inflected by all the main features of liberal humanism: secularism transformed in the New Atheist militant stance against religion, scientism, rationalism, pluralism, emphasis on the centrality of man and his liberties and rights, emphasis on the human relations and glorification of art and literature as humanizing achievements.  However, considering the post-9/11 context, the writers seek to shed light on the connection between this liberal humanist tendency and neo-orientalism (with Islamophobia as one of its main features). As such, despite the liberal humanist emphasis on avoidance of prejudice and considering all sides of an issue, the novel fails to ask the essential questions about the condition of the contemporary world –  the real causes of terrorism – and in effect by justifying an imperialistic war, rather unabashedly, serves power.


Addam, M. A., “Mr. McEwan and Mrs. Woolf: How a Saturday in February
Follows ‘This Moment of June’", Contemporary Literature, 35 (3): 548-572,
Almond, I., The New Orientalists, London: I. B. Tauris, (2007).
Amis, M., “The Voice of the Lonely Crowd”, The Guardian,
http://www.theguardian.com/books/2002/jun/01/philosophy.society, (2002).
Beattie, T., The New Atheists: The Twilight of Reason and the War on
Religion, US: Orbis Books, (2008).
Boireau, N., “Re-routing Radicalism with David Hare”, European Journal of
English studies, 7 (1): 125-37, (2003).
Bottici, C., and Challand B., The Myth of the Clash of Civilizations, New
York: Rutledge, (2010).
Bradley, A., and Tate A., The New Atheist Novel: Philosophy, Fiction and
Polemic after 9/11, London: Continuum, (2010).
Bullock, A., “Humanism”, In “Bullock”, Alan & Trombley eds., The New
Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought, 3rd edition, pp. 405-406, London:
Harper Collins Publishers.
Childs, P., Ian McEwan's Enduring Love, London & New York: Routledge,
with Courant, H., and Barsamian, D., Ruggiero, G., ed., 9/11, New York:
n.p, (2001).
---, Pirates and Emperors, Old and New: International Terrorism in the Real
World, Cambridge: South End Press, (2002).
---, “Preventive war, the supreme crime. Iraq: invasion that will live in
infamy”, Retrieved 11/8 /2013, from
http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article4416.htm, (2003).
Davies, T., Humanism, London and New York: Routledge, (1997).
DeLillo, D., “In the ruins of the future: Reflection on terror and loss in the
shadow of September”. Harper’s Magazine, 33-40. Retrieved 3/10/2013,
from http://harpers.org/archive/2001/12/in-the-ruins-of-the-future/, (2001).
Eagleton, T., Literary Theory: An Introduction, Oxford: Blackwell, (2008).
---, The English Novel: An Introduction, Oxford: Blackwell, (2005).
---, “The subject of literature”, Cultural Critique, 2 (winter 1985-86): 95-
104, (1985).
Eckstein, L., “Saturday on Dover Beach: Ian McEwan, Mattew Arnold, and
post-9/11 melancholia”, Hard Times 89(1): 1-12, (2011).
Edwards, D., and Cromwell D., Guardians of Power: The Myth of the
Liberal Media. London, Ann Arbor, MI: Pluto Press, (2006).
Gauthier, T., " ‘Selective in your mercies’: Privilege, Vulnerability, and the
Limits of Empathy in Ian McEwan's Saturday”, College Literature, 40 (2): 7-
30, (2013).
Groes, S., “A cartography of the Contemporary: Mapping Newness in the
Work of Ian McEwan”, in Ian McEwan, Groes, S., ed., (pp. 1-12). London:
Continuum, (2009).
---, The Making of London: London in Contemporary Literature, New York:
Palgrave, (2011).
Habib, R., Modern Literary Criticism and Theory: A History, USA:
Blackwell, (2008).
Head, D., The State of Novel: Britain and Beyond, United Kingdom:
Blackwell, (2008).
Hillard, M. C., "When Desert Armies Stand Ready to Fight": Re-reading
McEwan's Saturday and Arnold'd ‘Dover Beach’", Journal of Literature and
the History of Ideas, 6 (1) :181-206, (2007).
Hulme, P., Colonial Encounters, Europe and the Native Caribbean, 1492-
1797. London: Methuen, (1986).
Huntington, S. P., The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World
Order, New York: Touchstone, (1996).
Kakutani, M., “Books of the Time; Childhood and Time”, The New York
Times, Retrieved 26/11/2013, from
http://www.nytimes.com/1987/09/26/books/books-of-the-times-childhoodand-time.html, (1987).
Li, V., “Toward Articulation: Postcolonial Theory and Demotic Resistance”,
McCallum, P. and Faith, W. eds., Linked Histories: Postcolonial Studies in a
Globalized World, (pp. 209-228). New York: University of Calgary Press,
MacPhee, G., Postwar British Literature and Postcolonial Studies,
Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, (2011).
Malcolm, D., Understanding Ian McEwan, Columbia: University of South
Carolina Press, (2002).
McEwan, I., Black Dogs, New York: Vintage Canada, (1992).
---, “Jerusalem Prize Acceptance Speech”, Retrieved 26/10/2012, from
http://www.ianmcewan.com/bib/articles/jerusalemprize.html, (2011).
---, “Only Love and Then Oblivion. Love Was All They Had to Set Against
Their Murderers”, The Guardian, Retrieved 26/10/2012, from
phyandsociety2, (2001).
---, Saturday, USA: Anchor Books, (2005).
Munslow, A., The Routledge Companion to Historical Studies, London &
New York: Routledge, (2002).
Norman, R., On Humanism, London: Routledge, (2004).
Pilger, J., Gaurdians of Power: The Myth of the Liberal Media, Edwards, D.
and Cromwell, D. eds., (pp. ix-xii). London: Pluto Press, (2006).
Pirnajmuddin, H., "Armangaraeai dar bonbast: negahi be
namayeshnameh Faravani asar David Hare", Research in Contemporary
World Literature, (39). 20-25, (1386).
Pirnajmuddin, H. and Borhan, A., "Nosharghshenasi, terrorism va
pishgooeai tarikh dar roman Mao II asar Don DeLillo", Research in
Contemporary World Literature, (63). 65-84, (1390).
Rees-Jones, D., “Fact and Artefact: Poetry, Science, and a Few Thoughts on
Ian McEwan's Saturday”, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, 30 (4): 331-
340, (2005).
Reilly, S., “Liberalism”, in “Bullock", Alan & Trombley, eds., The New
Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought, (3rd ed, p.479). London: Harper
Collins Publishers, (1999).
Ridley, M., “Forward: Ian McEwan and the rational mind”, In Groes, S., ed.,
Ian McEwan”, (pp. vii-x). London: Continuum, (2009).
Ross, M. L., “On a Darkling Planet: Ian McEwan's Saturday and the
condition of England”, Twentieth-Century Literature, 54 (1): 75-96, (2008).
Roy, A., “Come September. Will things get better after they get worse?”,
 Women's Review of Books, 20 (7): 6-8, (2003).
Said, E. W., Culture and Imperialism, New York: Vintage Books, (1993).
---, Orientalism, London: Penguin Books, (2003).
---, The World, the Text and the Critic, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Press, (1983).
Salisbury, L., “Narration and Neurology: Ian McEwan's Mother Tongue”,
Textual Practice 24 (5): 883-912, (2010).
Sardar, Z., Orientalism, Philadelphia: Open University Press, (1999).
---, Postmodernism and the Other: The New Imperialism of Western Culture.
London: Pluto Press, (1998).
---, “Welcome to planet Blitcon”, New Statesman, Retrieved 26/10/2012,
from http://www.newstatesman.com/print/200612110045, (2006).
Schmemann, S., “War Zone; What Would ‘Victory’ Mean?”, The New York
Times. Retrieved 26/10/2012, from
http://www.nytimes.com/2001/09/16/weekinreview/war-zone-what-wouldvictory-mean.html, (2001).
Szahaj, A., “Postmodern Liberalism as a New Humanism”, Diogenes 206 52
(63): 63-70, (2005).
Winterhalter, T., "Plastic Fork in Hand: Reading as a Tool of Ethical Repair
in Ian McEwan's Saturday”, Journal of Narrative Theory, 40 (3): 338-363,