The effective use of perspectives and narrative techniques add beauty to short stories and provide them with new dimensions. A good story writer arrests the attention of the reader through his innovative narrative techniques and builds up tension or conflict in the minds of the reader and at the end leaves the reader at a vantage point to come to a conclusion on his own. The essay here tries to analyse the use of perspectives and narration in Marjorie Barnard’s ‘The Persimmon Tree’ and Peter Cowan’s ‘Shadow’ and throws light on the various narrative techniques employed by both. Both the writers are known for their realistic approach and one comes across realistic portrayal of modern life in their stories.
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Peter Cowan’s ‘Shadow’ is narrated from a third personal point of view and the meaning of the story can be derived from the various shifts employed by the writer in the story. The contrasting juxtapositions taken by the two women in the story provides the key to the understanding of the story. In the beginning of the story, the telephone conversation between Beth and her boy friend Alan acts as the starting point for the development of the plot and sustain interest in the reader.
Both of them pay a night visit to hospital to see Beth’s dying mother. Cowan’s description of the mother is poignant: “She had become in some measure accustomed now to the hospital, the first sense of finality, of fear, dulled by the daily contact with its corridors and wards, its cleanliness and order and anonymity, the quality of living held as if in suspense, unimportant beyond the wide tiled entrance and glass doors.” (Cowan).
The story then takes a shift into the past where Beth’s mother cherishes how she waited for her husband to reach home on a rainy day while she was making curtains foe her home. She remembers how he showered tender affection on her body and the narrator rightly suggests that “her mind [is] finding peace now only in the past.” (166-167). This incident is posed in sharp contrast to their meeting in the hospital when both the husband and the wife do not have anything to talk between them. Even though Beth’s mother wants to feel the husband’s hand, he holds his ‘hat clasped before him, clumsily, in both hands, and her gesture wavered into stillness.” (p. 169).
Beth then touches her symbolically suggesting her support for the mother and it is at this juncture that another shift in the story takes place and Beth changes her juxtaposition. The image of the banging window acts as a strong metaphor for the broken relationship of the two just as “no mending remedied the warped frame.” (p. 170) Thus, this juxtaposition is made clear at the end of the story when Beth heads for another direction even though Alan, her boy friend, is waiting for her. Another significant narrative technique employed by Cowan is the description of the landscapes and sceneries that suggest the inner feelings of the characters. For instance, when Beth goes to the hospital to meet her mother, the narrator states that “the clouds were broken, swift moving [and] darker patches of clear sky behind their shifting shapes.” (p. 166) followed her.
Unlike ‘Shadow’, ‘The Persimmon Tree’ by Marjorie Barnard is narrated from a first personal point of view and the inner feelings and conflicts of the central character are brought out effectively by the writer. The story provides domestic details of the setting in which the central character is placed and there is an emotional interaction between the setting and the character. The theme of loneliness and freedom are best brought out by the writer through the effective use of imageries and metaphors. The central character in the story lives alone in her single room and the world that she sees is through the side window.
She considers her mind as “transparent and as tender as new skin.” (p. 132); Barnard employs the mirror image and the budding image all throughout the story and both these images are interrelated in the story. The mirror image is introduced in the very beginning of the story when the central character states that she has ‘the face of a woman who has escaped’ and is maintained all throughout the story.
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The conflict or tension in the story takes place towards the middle of the story when the central character notices that there is another woman of the same age with dark coloured dress. The fact that the other woman does all things on her own choice adds to the mental conflict of the central character as she is incapable of enjoying such freedom. Another image that is carefully incorporated into the story is the image of the Persimmon Tree buds. The sight of the Persimmon Tree prompts the central character to go back to her glorious past days and her past association with the persimmon is provided in the form of flashback.
The Persimmon buds are compared to woman’s breasts with ‘deep, rich, golden colour’ which suggest of the need for ‘morning’s spring tranquillity’. The reader is left confused, wondering at the ending of the story. The image of the shadow is capable of providing various interpretations at the ending of the story. The image of “the scarcely distinguishable form of a woman whose face was in shadow” (Barnard) and the breaking of the heart leaves the readers wonder whether the other woman was just an illusion or an alter ego of the central character herself.
Thus, one can easily identify that both the writers are quite realistic in their approach and that it is their distinctive narrative techniques, the effective use of shifts and the way they have employed images and metaphors that have contributed to their popularity.
Barnard, Marjorie. The Persimmon Tree. (Provided by the customer).
Cowan, Peter. Shadow. (Provided by the customer).