“The tears came so fast to Mrs. Pontellier’s eyes that the damp sleeve of her peignoir no longer served to dry them. She was holding the back of her chair with one hand; her loose sleeve had slipped almost to the shoulder of her uplifted arm…round arms and nipping at her bare insteps.” (Chopin, III)
The textual excerpt appears in the third chapter of the book. The excerpt’s setting is in reference to Edna, the protagonist in the story. Edna, her husband, and their two children are taking a summer vacation in the Grand Isle, managed by Mrs. Lebrun and her two children. Just before the excerpt, Edna’s husband returns home and strikes a conversation with his wife, who neither shows interest in issues that concern him nor his conversations. A visit to the boy’s bedroom reveals that one of their children has a high fever, a fact unknown to his wife. Consequently, Mr. Pontellier reproaches his wife for her neglect and irresponsibility towards their children, an approach that sends Edna to tears after the husband falls asleep (Chopin, III).
The excerpt’s narration is in the third-person perspective, as indicated by the use of the personal pronoun ‘she.’ The Narrator is omniscient and omnipresent. These attributes give the reader a reassurance that the events in the story are accurate and reliable. As such, the reader can clearly relate to the Narrator’s description of the protagonist’s thoughts and emotions.
The imagery in the excerpt expresses the protagonist’s state of mind, which seems to be entangled in a complex web of emotions. She feels oppressed. The Narrator reveals that Edna could not describe her oppression, which originated in an ‘unfamiliar part of her consciousness.’ Edna is evidently different from other creole women, who ‘seemed to prevail that summer at Grand Isle.’ She was not a mother-woman. She did not belong to the group of ladies who ‘idolized their children…fluttered about with extended, protecting wings when any harm, real or imaginary, threatened their precious brood’ (Chopin, IV). Further, despite her husband’s ‘kindness and a uniform devotion which had come to be tacit and self-understood,’ Edna was not the type of women who ‘worshiped their husbands’ (Chopin, IV). This commentary serves to enlighten the reader that Edna is undergoing a transformation, only that she is not aware of the process.
Edna is characterized as an indifferent wife, enjoying a posh lifestyle, courtesy of her husband. Notwithstanding material wealth, Edna’s place is not by her husband’s. As such, Edna develops a mood which the narrator describes as a ‘shadow, like a mist passing across her soul’s summer day’ (Chopin, III). Therefore, the excerpt brings out a deeper meaning in the story’s title, The Awakening, and implies that in Edna’s transformation, change is a gradual process; from an unknown point, to the known. This transformation from a socially enslaved woman to a free woman, -able to discuss her fears, face the world, and explore her desires- is evident in the story’s progress where Edna decides to pursue her sexual desires with Robert.
The passage’s organization is in prose form. Further, the events are described in a chronological order, with multiple intermittent social commentaries. The narrator employs an adept chronological order of events to symbolize the awakening of the protagonist. As will be seen later on in the story’s development, almost every chapter marks a more advanced stage of the protagonist’s enlightenment. Finally, the use of prose in the passage is instrumental to the reader’s understanding of the general flow of the events in the story.
Close Reading Journal 2: Mrs. Dalloway Textual Excerpt
“So she would still find herself arguing in St. James’s Park, still making out that she had been right — and she had too — not to marry him… It made her angry still.”
The narration in this passage is in the third person’s perspective. The reader identifies this attribute by the consistent use of the pronoun ‘she.’ The narrator, being all knowing, sets to inform the reader about the protagonist’s thoughts. The narrator is credible in his/her recollections about the protagonist’s earlier predicaments with Peter, and serves to explain the reasons as to why Clarissa broke up with Peter. This passage aids in filling the blanks left in the preceding passages where the narrator introduced Peter to the reader but never fully described the character.
The textual excerpt encompasses three characters; the protagonist, Richard Dalloway, and Peter. In the passage, the reader is introduced to Peter’s insensitivity towards Mrs. Dalloway’s needs. The narrator explains that Peter’s obsession with sharing everything in their marriage was intolerable to the protagonist. Further, the narrator points out that Peter had never done anything memorable in Clarissa’s life, a fact that makes the protagonist angry to this moment. In comparison, Richard was way much better than Peter in managing relationships. Richard offers the protagonist ‘a little independence’ in their marriage. At this point, the narrator invokes a feeling of resentment towards Peter and consequently justifies why the protagonist broke up their relationship.
The passage makes exemplary use of imagery. St. James’s Park is not just a park but serves as a recollection of one of the protagonist’s highlights in her life – the place where she decided to begin afresh in life by breaking up with Peter; the place where she avoided ruining and destroying both of their lives. Additionally, the passage employs the use of similes like ‘…she had borne about with her for years like an arrow sticking in her heart.’ Having previously explained to the reader that Peter was emotionally detached from Clarissa, this imagery adds emphasis to the bitter moments the protagonist had suffered under Peter and convinces the reader that indeed Peter was not the protagonist’s best suitor.
The textual excerpt is in prose form. The narrator employs the use of simple sentences to make it easy for the reader to take in some simple facts necessary in understanding the passage. The simple sentences break the monotony of the heavy use of big blocky chunks of text, evident in the passage. The big chunks of text are however adeptly used to express the protagonist’s spectrum of thoughts. Further, the blocky texts facilitate the protagonist’s bitter tone that is dominant in the passage.
Though the narrator uses simple diction in conveying the events in the passage, the passage also uses informal and unconventional language characterized by several derogatory terms. The unconventional language is critical in bringing out the true depiction of the protagonist’s thoughts about Peter. Clarissa’s bitter thoughts are not explained in a continuous prose form, but with spurts of densely punctuated words. Further, when the narrator speaks of the Indian woman that Peter married after their break up, he/she describes the Indian women collectively as ‘silly, pretty, flimsy nincompoops.’ This clearly depicts a raw stream of thoughts that the reader would naturally expect from an aggrieved individual.
Close Reading Journal 3: Passing Textual Excerpt
“For a minute there was silence. She completed the bright red arch of her full lips. Brian moved towards the door. His hand was on the knob. He said: “I’m sorry, Irene. It’s my fault entirely. She seemed so hurt at being left out that I told her I was sure you’d forgotten and to just come along.” …Clare Kendry! So that was It! Impossible. It couldn’t be” (Larsen, 160).
The narration in this excerpt is from a third person point of view. This perspective is evident from the use of the pronouns “she” and “he.” The narrator is an observer of the events in the story and merely works to report to the reader about the unfolding of the narrative. The narrator is speaking to the reader/audience in this case. However, the reader cannot rely on the narrator, since he/she only knows, partially, the thoughts of the characters in the narrative. Often, the narrator relies on the dialogue of the characters in the passage to offer a social commentary and interpretation of the events.
The passage’s setting comes just after Brian, Irene’s husband, starts a conversation which featured Clare- Irene’s childhood friend. Just before the passage, the couple was discussing inviting people to their party and how to match-make the attendees. Suddenly, Irene made a statement which, to Brian, implied that Clare was stupid. As Irene struggled to clarify her statement, she accentuates that she did not think that Clare would invite herself to an event. It is at this point when the textual excerpt begins. The setting of the passage is necessary to complete the couple’s dialogue, which would otherwise have been left unsolved. During the dialogue, Brian reveals a secret that shocks his wife.
The passage employs the use of a formal language with a simple diction. As such, the language used offers a natural feeling, similar to the one that a reader would expect in a conversation between couples. Further, the textual excerpt is in prose form, punctuated with bits of dialogue. As mentioned above, the dialogues feature Brian and Irene. Brian reveals to Irene that she had invited Clare to their party. Irene had previously avoided meeting Clare since her last encounter with Jack and his racist, humiliating sentiments. Even after Clare traveled to New York, Irene had tried her level best to avoid her. Suddenly here was his husband confessing that he had invited Clare, without her knowledge. From the dialogue, it is clear that Brian knew his wife would be angry. “It’s my fault entirely… I told her I was sure you’d forgotten and to just come along.” This statement further raises eyebrows, as regards Brian’s feelings towards Clare, and his wife altogether. The fact that he considered Clare’s feelings before knowing what his wife thought about the idea, is a sign that perhaps Brian and Irene’s love is headed for the rocks. Further, this statement explicates that Brian might be flirting or has feelings for Clare. Evidently, since the narrator is unreliable, the passage leaves the reader to fill the blanks.
Most of the sentences are simple and short. The sentences facilitate a chronological follow-up of the emotions of the two characters. The imagery formed by the descriptive sentences depicting the emotions of the two characters –intermittently- creates a tense mood, during which the reader cannot tell what Irene’s reactions will be. The use of a simile offers more emphasis on Irene’s emotions as depicted from the statement, “Her fright was like a scarlet spear of terror…”
Close Reading Journal 4: Journey to the End of the Night Textual Excerpt
“It so happened that the war was creeping up on us without our knowing it, and something was wrong with my wits. That short but animated discussion had tired me out. Besides, I was upset because the waiter had sort of called me a piker on account of the tip…. I sing out to Arthur, and off I go to enlist, on the double” (Celine, 5).
The textual excerpt appears in a first person point of view. The narrator uses the pronoun “I” and “we.” The use of these pronouns is profound, throughout the passage, which is an indicator that the narrator, who is called Bardamu, is the protagonist in the narrative. The use of the first person perspective further implies that the events in the narrative are not accurate recollections of other character’s thoughts, but a mere observation by the narrator. As such, the general feeling of the passage is detachment, complimented by an acute dependence of the reader on the narrator to unfold events to the best of his recollection and observation.
The passage employs the use of dialogue as evidenced by two characters; Bardamu and Arthur. Both speakers are male and participate in a heated debate where Bardamu laments about the nature of the French citizens. From the passage, it is evident that Arthur is adamant and stubborn to reason. The narrator reveals this fact when he says, “…said Arthur, suddenly willing to listen to reason.” This revelation sheds some light on the narrator, whom the passage portrays as enlightened and modernized.
There is a profound use of imagery in the textual excerpt. The imagery serves to offer an emphasis on the narrator’s words. The narrator speaks of ‘sitting on nails,’ to emphasize on the difficult and absurd position that the French citizens have been forced to take. Additionally, this revelation is a precursor to several hardships that Bardamu faces later in the narrative. As such, the passage provides an insight to the readers, attracts their curiosity, and demands their attention in the events as they unfold from Bardamu’s narration. The use of irony as a literary device is also evident. The passage employs situational irony and verbal irony. The use of verbal irony is evident when the narrator asserts that the French masters call up to them when at war and tell them “…Let’s go! And if there’s anybody that doesn’t want to be killed on the sea, he can go and get killed on land, it’s even quicker!” Further, situational irony arises when the narrator, after describing in the meanest terms possible, sees the colonel marching past the café, he decides to go and enlist. It is ironic that the narrator literally ‘sings’ as he goes to enlist in the army, where he knows about all the deplorable circumstances revolving around serving in the armed forces. Sarcastically, the colonel –who is one of the high ranking masters in the army– is also described as nice-looking, “…a fine figure of a man.” The use of irony in the passage complements the meaning in the passage. Ironic statements facilitate the reader’s attention and make the novel more intriguing, impelling the reader to invoke his/her imagination capacity and decipher the hidden and underscoring meanings of the excerpt. Further, imagery is facilitated by the use of personification as a literary device. The narrator notes that enthusiasm lifted him to his feet.
Finally, the use of unconventional language evident in the excerpt draws the reader close to the narrator, as it encourages the reader to see events from the narrator’s point of view. When the narrator talks about “…stinking and sweating our balls off,” he implores the other speaker (Arthur) and the reader, to try and imagine the situation that soldiers pass through in the army. Generally, the tone used in the passage is sarcastic and portrays a fine mastery of literary skills.
Kate Chopin, The Awakening (1899)
Louis–Ferdinand Céline, Journey to the End of the Night (1932)
Nella Larsen, Passing (1929)
Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway (1925)
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