Stevenson Narration and Setting in Dissertation

Excerpt from Dissertation :

The narrator observes and describes but does not always interpret the events and the feelings of the characters to the reader. In other words, this narrative style could be termed limited omniscient.

One should also take into account the fact that we are often in doubt about the exact nature of the feelings and thoughts of the main character. We are, for instance, not quite sure if Markheim is sincere in what he says. He is after all a known liar. Are we then to believe that he has truly repented? The narrator is therefore only omniscient up to a point and there are times when there is doubt and ambiguity. For example,

The reader can never be sure if Markheim's anxiety of being apprehended for his crime is justifiable or merely another figment of his imagination. Throughout the passage, Markheim experiences a multitude of volatile and contradictory feelings, developing the tense and unstable mood of the prose.

The reason given for this from a literary point-of-view is that the use of the limited omniscient narrator is intended to create doubt and to emphasize the theme of appearance vs. reality in the story.

2.3. The narrator's attitude to the characters, to the subject of the story, how objective the narrator is? Does he give any comments?

White the narrator is to a large degree omniscient and all-seeing, yet he is only partially so. In other words, as discussed above, we are often not entirely sure if what the narrator reports is the entire truth. This means that this narrative style is only partly objective. It is obvious that when Markheim meets the dealer that he is pretending to buy something, while his real intention is criminally inclined. Knowing that he is a deceiver we cannot always be sure Markheim is sincere in all that he says to the stranger as the story progresses.

Therefore, there is always a small element of doubt and the possibility that the narrator is not aware of some subterfuge or pretence in the main character. This however adds to the intrigue and depth of the story and also tends to emphasize the main theme of the treacherous duality of human nature and the moral battle that takes place within the human psyche.

Therefore, the narrator's attitude to the main character is one of impartial observation combined with a deep concern for his situation. The narrator is also seemingly concerned with universal themes and issues that are explored through the main character. The story is also "… an insightful and metaphorical journey into the mind of a troubled soul."

A central theme that concerns the narrator is the conflict that exists within human nature as a result of the duality of good and evil. We can clearly see this conflict in the main character in this extract:

The sweat started upon Markheim's brow. "Well, then, what matter?" he exclaimed. "Say it be lost, say I am plunged again in poverty, shall one part of me, and that the worse, continue until the end to override the better? Evil and good run strong in me, haling me both ways. I do not love the one thing, I love all.

2.4. Do we know what he is thinking about?

What the narrator is thinking about comes across in many description and comments. For example, the emphasis on the shortness of life, the inevitability of death and the meaning of life are all aspects that interest the narrator. We see this in his description of Markheim's thoughts after the murder and his observation of the dead dealer lying on the floor.

So little a while ago that face had moved with every change of sentiment, that pale mouth had spoken, that body had been all on fire with governable energies; and now, and by his act, that piece of life had been arrested as the horologist, with interjected finger, arrests the beating of the clock.

3. Narration

3.1. Are events presented in chronological order or not: how many thing are narrated, told, in detail or not?

The events in this short story are told in chronological order from the beginning when Markheim enters the shop to the end where he gives himself up to the police. However, this chronological order is at times interspersed with views and scenes from the past; for example, when Markheim first encountered images of murder and memories of religious experiences. In other words, while the narrative is essentially chronological the sequence of events is often interrupted by memories and thoughts that are strictly out of sequence. However it should be noted that when the narrative deviates from the sequence of present event, these digressions, such as memories of childhood, tend to add depth to the narrative.

3.2. Mood in the stories

The development of mood in the setting of this story is extremely important in this short story. Very briefly the mood of a story refers to "The general feeling the reader gets while reading the story."

This is however a rather simplistic definition that does not tell us much. A more comprehensive definition of mood is;

The mood of a short story is established through detailed descriptions of the settings, people, and atmosphere of a story. For example, if you are writing a scary story about a haunted house, the mood will be dark and foreboding. The setting should be dark - muted colors and shadowy corners - and the characters should be feeling a mixture of excitement and delicious fear.

Mood is therefore created by as combination of setting, tone, language usage and detail. The mood of tension and terror that the protagonist experiences after the murder of the dealer is clearly expressed in the language and imagery of the following quote from the story. "Meanwhile, and behind all this activity, brute terrors, like the scurrying of rats in a deserted attic, filled the more remote chambers of his brain with riot."

3.3. Language usage by narrator and characters.

The language used by the narrator is a mixture of succinct and straightforward description and more intense and perceptive commentary. On the one hand the narrator tells the story in a direct manner. On the other hand he uses devices of style such as metaphor and simile to express the more subtle and complex points of his character's feelings and emotions.

The language usage of the characters is often argumentative and complex - especially in the discourse between Markheim and the stranger. An example of the way that the narrator combines straightforward description with astute insight into the nature of the characters can be seen in the following extract. "The dealer looked closely at his companion. It was very odd, Markheim did not appear to be laughing; there was something in his face like an eager sparkle of hope, but nothing of mirth."

In this description and in the juxtaposition of the opposites of "eager spark of hope" and " nothing of mirth," we are afforded some insight into the conflict that rages in the consciousness of the character.

3.4. Stylistic device

There are as wide range of stylistic devices that contribute to the mood and the atmosphere of the story. The following are only a few examples.

Contrast and paradox are used to great effect in this story. This stylistic device also highlights the central them of duality and the inner turmoil and conflict between opposites that we encounter in the main character. Some examples from the text would be: "…"with the mingled shine and darkness in the shop," "the bright suit of armour…and on the dark wood carvings" and "A flash of ice; a flash of fire."

These examples all show a relationship to the central conflict of opposites in the narrative.

Metaphor is used expertly to convey different emotions and states of mind; for example, "The dealer, while he thus ran on in his dry and biting voice." This evokes something of the quality of character. A good example of metaphor as it relates to the themes of the story is; "The candle stood on the counter, its flame solemnly wagging in a draught…."

The image of flame as symbol of passion or desire is combined with the image of a wagging and admonishing finger. In one short phrase the writer is able to convey a sense of the feeling of morality and conscience that lies at the center of Markheim's character.

Pure description and the use of language serve not only to add tension and interest to the story but also highlight the central theme of duality and inner conflict. Note the following description of Markheim just before he stabs the dealer.

The dealer stooped once more, this time to replace the glass upon the shelf, his thin blond hair falling over his eyes as he did so. Markheim moved a little nearer, with one…

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