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narration in four novels, "The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck, "Old Man and the Sea" by Ernest Hemingway, "All the King's Men" by Robert Penn Warren, and "Absalom, Absalom!" By William Faulkner. Specifically, it compares are contrast the four different methods of narration in each of these novels.
Each of these classic novels uses a different form of narration to set the stage for the characters and move the plot along. Each form of narration adds to the impact of the novel, and altering the narration would certainly alter the way the novels affect the reader. These novels are excellent examples of the differing forms of narration, and how important they are to the overall art of fiction.
Absalom, Absalom!" uses a stream of consciousness type of narration that includes the shifts in points-of-view and setting that can be unsettling to the reader. This is the author's intention, for he hopes to show that these same items shift consistently in everyone's life as they search for meaning and truth. Sentences are so long and convoluted that they sometimes lose the reader, and yet they set the scene quite effectively. While this novel is difficult to read, many of the narrative passages are extremely poetic and emotional. For example, Rosa once says, "my presence was to him only the absence of black morass and snarled vine and creeper to that man who had struggled through a swamp with nothing to guide or drive him -- no hope, no light: only some incorrigibility of undefeat..." (Faulkner 137). This is beautiful and poetic narration, even as it winds through the book like that "snarled vine," and is often difficult for the reader to decipher.
Unlike Faulkner's novel, "The Old Man and the Sea" uses clearer sentences and a third-person stream of consciousness type of narration that places the reader right inside the head of tortured Santiago, the unlucky fisherman. Like Faulkner, Hemingway's narration is poetic and thought provoking, but easier for the reader to picture and understand. He writes, "The clouds were building up now for the trade wind and he looked ahead and saw a flight of wild ducks etching themselves against the sky over the water, then blurring, then etching again and he knew no man was ever alone on the sea" (Hemingway 61). Hemingway's epic novel is a story of man against nature. This simple theme translates into a simpler, more straightforward narration that uses lush, poetic descriptions to get the point across to the reader.
Steinbeck is known for his short, simple sentences, and astute observations of the characters in his novels, and "The Grapes of Wrath" is no exception. This narration combines the story of the Joad family, run off their farm by the continued drought, and "interchapters," which are much more generalized and expressive of the entire experience of the Great Depression and its overall effect on the country, and the people. Ultimately, his novel is about the goodness of men that often comes at the worst of times. Ma Joad notes, "Bearin' an' dyin' is two pieces of the same thing" (Steinbeck 210), and here is the root of this important novel. Man lives and dies, and what he does between the two is what that matters. The Joads, with their quiet dignity in the face of great adversity are the backbone of the nation, and Steinbeck uses relatively simply narration to match the simplicity of his characters. Ultimately, the simple narration leads to complexity, both in the characters and in the themes of the book itself.
Warren's "All the King's Men" uses another more complex form of narration - flashbacks, which often leave the reader wondering where they are in the novel. Ultimately, this novel is about the characters coming to terms with the past, so they can live decent lives in the future. Jack thinks, "And that means that my mother gave me back the past. I could now accept the past which I had before felt was tainted and horrible. I could accept the past now because I could accept her and be at peace with her and with myself" (Warren 432). Therefore, the past must be an important part of the present in the book, so the characters can complete their soul-searching and transformations, and the reader will understand the past that has led to this future. Warren's use of flashbacks is calculated to take the reader back in time, so they can deeply understand the causes of the characters' actions and the effects of those long ago causes. The use of flashbacks may at first confuse the reader, but that is also part of the plan. Warren uses confusion to indicate the uncertainty in the characters' lives, and how the past has caused them to question themselves and their motives.
Faulkner clearly chose his form of narration to encompass the many generations he wrote about, and to draw the reader into the novel. His style is certainly not the easiest to read, but it somehow embodies the history and brooding setting of the South in the novel, and it makes the reader really think about the characters and their actions. The reader must really interpret Faulkner's words, and so, they must really think about each page of the novel and where it is leading.
Hemingway's narration is far different from Faulkner's and the others for a very good reason. His novel is different. Faulkner's is full of veiled metaphors and references, and Steinbeck's, although simple in its own way, is really a testament on society and how it allows people like the Joads to fall through the cracks. Hemingway's theme is fairly simple, but the way he presents it is not simple at all. By the time the book is done, the reader knows the heart and soul of the man, and his great love for the sea and its' creatures. This was Hemingway's intent all along, and so, he placed the reader in the head of Santiago. By the time the novel is over, the reader wants him to triumph, even though he knows the inevitable. Santiago is doomed, just as men like him are doomed. Men no longer pit themselves against nature, with only a tiny boat between them. Hemingway's story is a cry for times past, and them men who made them great, and his narration is as heroic as Santiago.
Steinbeck's narration style may be closer to Hemingway's than the other two authors, but his seemingly simple narration hides depth and well thought out complexities that keep the story moving along to its unavoidable conclusion. At the end of the book, Tom states, "I'll be ever'where -- wherever you look" (Steinbeck 419), and this is the ultimate point of Steinbeck's seemingly simple narration. There is a Tom Joad in every man, and Steinbeck wanted every man to understand that at the end of his novel. His narration style helped that occur.
Finally, Warren chose his narration to underline his ultimate point in his novel, just as the other authors did. Warren also wants to show transformation and self-knowledge, and to do that, he must show every facet of his characters, so the reader will understand the character has made a dramatic transformation, which Jack and Willie both do in this novel. In the beginning, Jack is like a child, and it is through the flashbacks of the narration that we see him grow from a petulant child, who cries, "I only told her the truth... And she can't blame me for the truth!" (Warren 326). Jack grows from a child to a man through the narrative, and another form of storytelling might not have made his transformation so complete or compelling.
Each of these forms of narration has something important and valuable to give to their respective novels. In addition, each has some weaknesses. Faulkner's narrative voice is probably the most difficult to wade through, but it is highly effective in the mood and tone it produces. Sometimes, it just seems to be words strung together that sound pleasant but have no real meaning. For example: "But it was no summer of a virgin's itching discontent; no summer's caesarean lack which should have torn me, dead flesh or even embryo, from the living: or else, by friction's ravishing of the male-furrowed meat, also weaponed and panoplied as a man instead of hollow woman" (Faulkner 120). However, this speech of Rosa's sets her in a historical time period, because modern people simply do not speak like that, and sets the stage for the madness and mayhem throughout the novel.
In contrast, Steinbeck and Hemingway use deceptively simple narration that at first seems clear, but subtly turns to complexities many readers might not even notice. Steinbeck weaves in chapters on the Joads with chapters on "everyman," while Hemingway's poetic prose brings the beauty and danger of nature home to the reader. Their style of narration is quite easier to read than Faulkner's, but that does not…[continue]
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