All posts by KFer

The Significance of Aesthetic Description in the Perspective of the Narrator

“It was translated to him word for word, and the enclosure, a cheque for one hundred rupees, was handed to him. A big crowd gathered to watch this scene. Singh pressed the letter to his eyes. He beat his brow, and wailed: ‘Tell me, sir, am I mad or not?'” (Narayan 34)

“There they stood facing each other on the floor of the compartment Rajam Iyer was seized by a sense of inferiority. The newcomer stood nine clean inches over him. He began to feel ridiculous, short and fat, wearing a loose dhot and a green coat, while the newcomer towered above him in his grease-spotted khaki suit” (Narayan 57)

Notes: Variations in the third person narrator – Hemingway-esque exteriority vs. omniscient, psychological perspective. Minimalist description vs. expansive, aesthetic detail. The connection between aesthetic detail and interiority  – would a perspective lacking the psychological component be as effective in maintaining its exteriority with the incorporation of more vivid aesthetic detail? If the first excerpt included an image about Singh’s “grease-spotted” clothing, how would it change the perspective of the narrator? Are aesthetic descriptions based on visual objectivity or do they contain subjective visions?

Increasing Interiority and the Portrayal of Violence

I believe that according to our readings in this course, the enacting and effect of violence becomes increasingly individualized in the progression twentieth century fiction due to a deepening prominence of a character’s psychological perspective. The same magnitude of consequence for violence may exist for a character from the beginning of the century to its end, what expands is an outlet for interiority, which arguably provides the audience a more vivid idea of the ramifications of violence. Violent behavior certainly varies with location, as cultural norms vary according to not only time but space. However, as the period of time in which these books were published saw strengthened globalization, location may play a subtler role in setting variance in violence, as norms may have been more collectively determined by increasingly interacting societies.

Hemingway’s In Our Time, first published in France in 1924, is decisively unattached from providing a sense of interiority or psychological position even in the face of extremely gruesome and assumably damaging images of trauma and death in the heat of war. Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, published in 1925, shows an increased attention to the individual psyche, as Septimus struggles with the psychological after effects of war and Clarissa Dalloway contemplates her own interior standing concerning his suicide. Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, published in 1930, presents both a more stylistically individualized and substantively darker perspective of violence. The novel is partitioned with headings naming characters noting a narrative trade-off, showing an increased concern for stylistic voice regarding the individual. This narrative segmentation is also accompanied with the use of dialect, providing the reader a supplementary stylistic concept of the individual’s voice. The events of violence, such as Vardaman drilling holes through his mother’s coffin and consequently into her face, are all related to the family unit and are treated with a dark humour, therefore contributing to an increased sense of disturbance and an overall heightened attention to psychological treatment of violence. Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, published in 1937, is primarily framed by Janie’s interior growth in response to violence. The novel is largely concerned with and told through her interiority, and violent acts, such as her shooting Tea Cake, are discussed through a chiefly psychological perspective.

I would argue that the aforementioned novels show an increased concern for interiority and attention to a character’s psychological perspective in fiction. While there are many variables concerning the portrayal of violence, I believe that the strengthened level of interiority I observed in these four novels portrays a progression in the presentation of the individual, as psychological concerns may have become more somehow more crucial to portray.

The sun and the temporality of the natural world

“The people all saw her because it was sundown. The sun was gone, but he had left his footprints in the sky. It was the time for sitting on porches beside the road. It was the time to hear things and talk. These sitters had been tongueless, earless, eyeless conveniences all day long. …But now, the sun and the bossman were gone, so the skins felt powerful and human.” (Hurston 1)

“There are years that ask questions and years that answer. Janie had no chance to know things, so she had to ask. Did marriage end the cosmic loneliness of the unmated? Did marriage compel love like the sun the day?” (Hurston 21)

“They sat on the boarding house porch and saw the sun plunge into the same crack in the earth from which the night emerged.” (Hurston 33)

Notes: The appearance and disappearance of the sun informs the activities of daily life – this attention to the sun’s movement conveys an importance of adhering to nature’s given temporal order. Daily life is regimented by nature through the visual signal of the sun. Janie’s contemplation of marriage also includes attention to the sun, conveying that the sun is not only a visual marking for timekeeping in daily life but a symbol for its abstract occurrences.

Physical vs. social experience of material

“He shivered as he turned on his side. But he didn’t mind the cold very much, suffering it willingly because he could sacrifice a good many comforts for the sale of what he called ‘fashun,’ by which he understood the art of wearing trousers, breeches, coat, puttees, boots, etc., as worn by the British and Indian soldiers in India. ‘You lover of your mother,’ his father had once abusively said to him, ‘take a quilt, spread a bedding on a string bed, and throw away that blanket of the gora white men; you will die of cold in that thin cloth.’ But Bakha was a child of modern India.” (2)

“…Its woollen texture felt nice and sharp against his skin, but left an irritating warmth behind. It was a pleasant irritation, however, and he went ahead with the renewed vigour that discomfort sometimes gives to the body. ‘My work will soon be finished,’ he said to himself, seeing that he was almost at the end of one part of his routine. But the end of one job meant to him no espace into the haven of luxury.” (9-10)

Formal elements in narration

“It’s because he stays out there, right under the window, hammering and sawing on that goddamn box. Where every breath she draws is full of his knocking and sawing where she can see him saying See. See what a good one I am making for you. I told him to go somewhere else. I said Good God do you want to see her in it. It’s like when he was a little boy and she says if she had some fertilizer she would try to raise some flowers and he taken the bread pan and brought it back from the barn full of dung.” (14)

Nots: repetition within repetition, how the omission of quotation marks forges connections between characters

Asides and extremes in depicting alternating psychological perspectives

“Or there were the poets and thinkers. Suppose he had that passion, and had gone to Sir William Bradshaw, a great doctor yet to her obscurely evil, without sex or lust, extremely polite to women, but capable of some indescribable outrage — forcing your soul, that was it — if this young man had gone to him, and Sir William had impressed him, like that, with his power, might he not then have said (indeed she felt it now, Life is made intolerable; they make life intolerable, men like that?

Then (she had felt it only this morning) there was the terror, the overwhelming  incapacity, one’s parents giving it into one’s hands, this life, to be lived to the end, to be walked with serenely  there was in the depths of her heart an awful fear.” (141)

Notes: What especially captivated me about this passage is how Woolf depicts multiple characters simultaneously. Woolf presents the perspective of Bradshaw, Septimus, and Clarissa. Through phrases like “obscurely evil”, “indescribably outrage”, and “overwhelming incapacity”, Woolf creates an atmosphere of extreme psychological distress that relates to multiple characters. The asides, marked by both hyphens and parentheses, convey an uneasy and disjointed narrative that lends itself to the intensity and erracticness of the content.

Emotionless in depicting gruesome images

“He pulled back the blanket from the Indian’s head. His hand came away wet. He mounted on the edge of the lower bunk with the lamp in one hand and looked in. The Indian lay with his face toward the wall. His throat had been cut from ear to ear. The blood had flowed down into a pool where his body sagged the bunk. His head rested on his left arm. The open razor lay, edge up, in the blankets.

[…] ‘I’m terribly sorry I brought you along, Nickie,'” said his father, all his post-operative exhilaration gone. ‘It was an awful mess to put you through.'” (18)

Notes: emotional restraint – complete emotionless from narrator, limited emotional perspective from characters



Characterization in ‘Whose Body?’

“He had drifted across the passage into his bedroom and was changing with a rapidity one might not have expected from a man of his mannerisms. He selected a dark-green tie to match his socks and tied it accurately without hesitation or the slightest compression of his lips; substituted a pair of brown shoes for his black ones, slipped a monocle into a breast pocket, and took up a beautiful Malacca walking-stick with a heavy silver knob.” (5)

“Lord Peter’s library was one of the most delightful bachelor rooms in London. Its scheme was black and primrose; its walls were lined with rare editions, and its chairs and Chesterfield sofa suggested the embraces of the houris. […] friendly and familiar, like a colorful and gilded paradise in a mediaeval painting.” (16)

Notes: characterization through aesthetics and particularity, furthered by elements of style, especially alliteration

Duality in temperature, “Portrait”

“To remember that and the white look of the lavatory made him feel cold and then hot. There were two cocks that you turned and water came out: cold and hot. He felt cold and then a little hot: and he could see the names printed on the cocks. That was a very queer thing” (9).

“There was a noise of curtainrings running back along the rods, of water being splashed in the basins. There was a noise of rising and dressing and washing in the dormitory: a moise of clapping of hands as the prefect went up and down telling the fellows to look sharp. A pale sunlight showed the yellow curtains draw back, the tossed beds. His bed was very hot and his face and body were very hot” (21).

Joyce seems to use temperature to parallel Stephens’ emotions. Water seems to represent some kind of cold, dreadful feeling inside him, and the frequent images of water reminds the reader of Stephens’ own feelings. At the same time, Stephen himself feels hot, and this duality is shown through the first passage. The literal temperature of the water conveys Stephens’ own “emotional” temperature. Hence, literal sensory images reflect an internal idea.

Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. New York: Random House, 1916. Print.

Contrast, color, and melancholy

“Sometimes the thought of how all her world was made, filled the complex, desiring Melanctha with despair. She wondered, often, how she could go on living when she was so blue.

Melanctha told Rose one day how a woman whom she knew had killed herself because she was so blue. Melanctha said, sometimes, she thought this was the best thing for herself to do” (Stein 48).

“Melanctha was pale yellow and mysterious and a little pleasant like her mother, but the real power in Melanctha’s nature came through her robust and unpleasant and very unendurable black father” (Stein 50).

What struck me the most about these two passages, and Stein’s style in general throughout the novella, was the competition of simplistic syntax and grave subject material. The sentence structure of the first passage conveys an unnerving sense of simplicity, even while the topic is so complex.

Stein’s attention to color shows a pervasive melancholy concerning race: “blue” and “pale yellow”, while the former is figurative and the latter literal, both serve to portray a ceaseless consciousness of color. “Blue” and “pale yellow” provide emotional insight into the stratification of “black”, “white”, and “mulatto” (Stein 62).

Stein, Gertrude. “Melanctha.” In Three Lives. 1909. Reprint, New York: Dover, 1994.  (48-62).