Oedipa and ambiguous focalization

In the airport scene, Oedipa is described as “playing the voyeur and listener” (100), observing an array of strange and unusual characters walking by her. Describing the people she sees, the narrative, somehow takes on an omniscient point of view through her eyes, as for example she knows a Negro woman “kept going through rituals of miscarriage each for a different reason”. Contradicting these strange omniscient descriptions, is Oedipa’s own doubts as to how many times she saw the post horn, as “perhaps she did not see it quite as often as she later was to remember seeing it”. Oedipa’s focalization wavers often between internal, subjective, and something more omniscient, never quite reconciling its ambiguity (as when, on page 28, she manages to take off three different earrings). Perhaps the answer can be found in this same description on page 100, where Oedipa sees a double of herself, another voyeur whose consciousness, for some reason, she can’t access, as she doesn’t know what he or she is looking for (“searching for who knows what specific image”).

1 Comment

  1. You raise a great point about the ambiguity of focalization throughout the narrative of this novel. It is so biased towards Oedipa’s mentality that it presents almost as her stream of consciousness, ridden with her doubts and neuroses. The narration presents such an elaborate portrait of her psyche that on one section on page 153, though the text says she is speaking subvocally, the mode seems suddenly to have broken through to first-person: “My shrink, pursued by Israelis, has gone mad; my husband, on LSD, gropes like a child further and further…Where am I?” Paralleling the out-of-body narrative sections you’ve pointed out, in sections like this one we as readers are reminded of our own voyeuristic positioning, looking in on the intimate lives of the characters. It also prompts us to examine the magnitude with which we have let Oedipa’s subjectivities pervade our own perception.

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