After the narrator realizes that the faceless commissar is Man and so undergoes the “final revision” (336) of his confession, the narrative abruptly shifts from the first person to what seems to be the third person omniscent. It is unclear whether the narrator (what we have, until now, called the protagonist) is still really the narrator, as the narrative suddenly refers to him as “the prisoner” and “the patient.” (339) It seems as though he is not, especially since the novel had been framed as a confession to the Commandant, but we know that the narrator has already submitted his confession to him and that the confession had been rejected. We learn that “later, sometime in the bright future, the commissar would play the patient a tape recording of his answer [to the question about the female communist agent], though he had no memory of the tape recorder’s presence,” (349) which seems to further indicate that the narrator is no longer in charge of the narrative. However, we shift back to the first person, from the perspective of the narrator, over the course of his confession of the gang rape. Especially after our discussion of the Foucaultian concept of confession in class on Monday, I think that this strange break in the interiority of the narrator reflects the gap between the loss of his previous identity, as someone who did not witness the gang rape, and the construction of his new identity, as someone who does remember participating in the incident. It is through the confession that he realizes and regains his sense of interiority. The confession is now not for the benefit of the Commandant, but rather for himself, as a method to come to terms with his self and his memories.
The Frow readings have briefly alluded to the religious practice of confession and its strategic secularization into a device for modern literature. Traditionally, the ritual of confession serves for the confessor to acknowledge his or her wrongs in aims to be absolved of sin/ignominy (forgiveness), reform himself or herself through penance, and ultimately be reborn of conscience. In The Sympathizer, Viet Than Nguyen structures the narrative as the protagonist’s confession to his unidentified “Commandant.” In keeping with the Augustinian model of confession, the narrative includes both admittance of wrongdoing as well as proclamations of faith. This is demonstrated in the passage that opens Chapter 7: he admits his guilt over the assassination – “I confess that the major’s death troubled me greatly, Commandant…He was a relatively innocent man” – and then affirms his commitment to the revolutionary project, which serves as a stand-in for God in this book – “We’re revolutionaries, and revolutionaries can never be innocent” (111). This novel’s confessional structure, however, deviates strongly from the religious model because its narrator’s confession is not a voluntary enterprise; it is the result of an exercise of political force. Thus, contained within any ideological proclamations in the text, there is another layer of deception added to the already Janus-faced narrative. It makes me wonder, if in writing this confession the narrator becomes a reformed subject in the eyes of the state, how has his perspective and thus the story we receive been altered? Or how, if it all, does the narrator subvert the limitations of his prescribed confession?
In The Bluest Eye, the plot is not centered around just one character, but two, both Claudia and Pecola. It is almost difficult to determine who is the minor character in the other person’s story. So when beginning to think about writing a post, I was surprised that I didn’t quite know which character was the main character. If you read the summary added by the publisher on the back of the book, it makes it quite clear that Pecola is the main character, the primary person of interest. No other character is mentioned. But when we read the actual novel, we find that we get none of Pecola’s interiority or internal thoughts, only her outward behaviors and actions. At the same time, we get all of Claudia’s internal thoughts. We can track Claudia’s development on a personal level, but we are always somewhat removed from Pecola. We never hear her internal voice. She is a minor character in her own story.
In the Forward, Morrison writes that, “Begun as a bleak narrative of psychological murder, the main character could not stand alone since her passivity made her a narrative void. So I invented friends, classmates …” (x). How is our understanding of Pecola affected by this status as a ‘minor’ main character? Does it limit the reader’s ability to connect with her? Does it inform the reader’s understanding of her relegated position in society?
It is also interesting to think about the strange things the narration must do in order to have Pecola’s story told by Claudia. There are some instances where Claudia is very clearly the narrator, and where she is talking about thoughts and experiences in first person, many of which have nothing to do with Pecola, like when she is narrating her interactions with her mother or her thoughts about Maureen Peal. However, there are other sections of the story where Claudia is absent, and the story is centered just on Pecola, like the scene with Junior and the cat or the time Pecola goes to buy Mary Janes. These are all narrated in third person. Are we supposed to understand Claudia, perhaps an older Claudia, narrating these stories, or are we supposed to understand them as coming from an outside, third person narrative voice?