While analyzing any work of literature, especially prose, it is of the crucial importance to give extra attention to the role of the narrator, because, the reader perceives the events through the eyes of this person. As a rule literary critics single out several types of story telling, like for instance, first person narration or third person relation and even second person narration. Each of these types is aimed at achieving some particular effect.
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As regards the first person narration, we can say that writers usually resort to such technique in order to create the atmosphere of intimacy. In the overwhelming majority of cases, the storyteller is the main character of the novel. The reader is able to gain insights into the inner world of the person, his world perception, his views, ideas, and moral code. However, sometimes, such narrator can perform the function of the observer, who merely reports the facts, without airing his views on what he or she is telling. Usually, such device is used make the reader form his own opinion. It is often called objective narration, though such effect is very difficult to achieve.
In addition to that, it should be mentioned that the storyteller is mostly protagonist, because the author entrusts his most intimate thoughts and ideas to the character, who wins his affection or respect. It is very seldom, that the narrator is the villain. Only if the author wants to mislead the audience, he or she can employ such stylistic device.
Now that we have summarized the role of the narrator in general, it would be better for us to give some concrete examples. Moreover, we should compare and contrast the function of the storyteller in both short stories. There are several criteria for analysis, for example the attitude of the author to the main character, whether he is antagonist or protagonist. We should also ascertain whether the narrator is reliable or unreliable, biased or unbiased in his judgment.
The first short story that we are going to discuss is called “The Boat”, it was written by a prominent Canadian fiction writer Alistair MacLeod. In this short story, the main character relates the plot. The author lets us into the inner world of this character, his most intimate feelings. Overall, we can say the storyteller is haunted by the feeling of remorse. He understands that he simply abandoned his mother. The narrator tries to make up some excuses, saying his mother “is too proud to accept any other aid” (Macleod, 55).
Although, the narrator has succeeded, certainly in terms of financial and social position, it is obvious, that he is not quite content with his spiritual life. Guilt overwhelms him.
Analyzing the functions of the narrator in this story, we can arrive at the conclusion, that through him the author shows his views and ideas. To a certain degree his constant doubts represent some mental steps. We cannot say that the author associates himself with the main character, as some writers often do. The storyteller is not a protagonist, whose views and ideas are already shaped. On the contrary, he is the person, who is always inclined to hesitate, to question the rightness of his decisions. His role cannot be limited only to the relating of the story; he is some kind of medium, who conveys the main message of the author. His evolvement or probably spiritual growth is the key motif of “The Boat” We see that the person who is “selfishly following only his dreams and inclinations” will eventually reach the deadlock, which is very difficult to break.
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Therefore, we can arrive at the conclusion that the main function, performed by the narrator in the short story “The Boat” is to render the authors thoughts and ideas. The main peculiarity is that MacLeod uses him as some example for a moral tale.
As far as the story “The Loons” by Margaret Laurence is concerned, it should be taken into account that it is narrated by a little girl Vanessa. Overall, it is a very difficult task to cope with, because very few adults are capable of seeing the world through the eyes of a child, it is a very rare gift. The child is able to see everything without prejudice or stereotypes.
Vanessa describes her relationships with the other girl Piquette Tonnerre. These characters grow up under the same circumstances. At first glance, it seems that they are going to be the most intimate friend forever. However, the situation drastically changes with time passing, especially when Vanessas father dies. Piquette no longer wants to be with Vanessa. The storyteller describes it in the following way “Piquette looked at me with a sudden flash of scorn. Your dad was the only person in Manawaka that ever done anything good to me” (Lawrence, 150). We see that their relationships are irretrievably lost.
Naturally, Margaret Lawrence could have used different person for the role of the narrator. Probably, through Vanessa, the author wants to describe the process of growing up. We can see that the girl tries as hard as she can to capture the last moments of her childhood, but the death of her father puts an end to it. The behavior of her seemingly best friend Piquette brings her back to reality. Probably, such story can appeal to every person, because everyone experienced that transition period from childhood to adolescence and the disappointments, connected with it.
It we try to compare and contrast the role of narrators in these two stories, we may see that they both have similarities and distinctions. First, in both cases, the narrator is the protagonist, the person, who has many good qualities and we can sympathize with him or her. However, these characters perceive the world in different ways.
Macleod’s narrator is an adult person, who is full of prejudices and stereotypes, the person, who has gone astray. However, he is still capable of redemption. The sense of remorse is something that he possesses. As regards Vanessa, we can say that she is still a child, but her placid tranquil world has been ruined. In addition to that, it should be mentioned that Margaret Laurences novel is to a certain degree autobiographical, the author associates herself with the character.
Thus, having analyzed these stories, we can draw a conclusion, that the function of the narrator in the novel is many-faceted. Through him or her, the author expresses the views and ideas. As regards the first person narration, we can say that it creates the atmosphere of intimacy.
Jon C. Stott, Raymond E. Jones, Rick Bowers. “The Harbrace Anthology of Literature”. Harcourt Brace Canada, 1994.