Tag: unreliability

The Confessional Narrative

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?

Focalization and Narration: Omniscient, First Person, or Unreliable?

I think Bechdel’s inclusion and analysis of her own diary entries in Fun Home bring up an interesting question about what type of narrator she is in her own life.

For the majority of the novel, Bechdel is a pretty omniscient narrator, but not fully omniscient. She is omniscient in comparison with her younger self that she is describing because as she writes this novel, she now knows way more about her parents, especially her father, than her younger self knew. However, she is not fully omniscient; there are still mysteries in her father’s story, which then cause mysteries in her own story. For example, she is still not quite sure if her father committed suicide or not: “There’s no proof, actually, that my father killed himself” (27). Another example is when her father calls her into the morgue to hand him a pair of scissors: “Maybe this was the same offhanded way his own notoriously cold father had shown him his first cadaver…Or maybe he felt he’d become too inured to death, and was hoping to elicit from me an expression of the natural horror he was no longer capable of. Or maybe he just needed the scissors” (44-45). Although she knows more about her father than she did back then, she still does not have the whole picture, so her narration of her own history is limited.

When her diary entries come in, the narration switches from memory to actual primary accounts. These can verify the events and feelings she has been describing. However, most of the entries she includes do not say much; they certainly do not detail and analyze events the way she is doing as she is narrating the novel. Even during the beginning phase of her diary writing where she is just writing down hard facts, the facts are not that significant, such as “We watched the Brady Bunch. I made popcorn.” As she becomes older, her diary writing style changes: “…hard facts gave way to vagaries of emotion and opinion” (169). These entries may actually say more about who she was at this point in her life, but she isn’t always honest about how she feels in her own diary entries. For example, she and her friend can’t go to a football game and school dance because they “stupidly missed” their ride; however, the present narrator Bechdel states, “My profession of disappointment at missing the game at dance was an utter falsehood, of course” (183). In fact, on the very next page, she literally writes, “My narration had by this point become altogether unreliable” (184). I find it so interesting that she from the present is invalidating her own written account from the past. Does she really remember that she was lying about the dance in her diary? Is she interpreting these entries correctly? Or is she interpreting them with a present lens? In fact, on the back of my copy of Fun Home, there is a short bio of Bechdel that reads, “Alison Bechdel began keeping a journal when she was ten and since then has been a careful archivist of her own life.” However, her young diary entries do not at all seem like careful archives. Thy are full of words that do not say enough about an important event or say something that’s different from how she felt about an event. She literally calls herself unreliable! How can we fuse the teenage narrator with the adult narrator in order to figure out what is the truth?

A play within a plot

When reading the section in Chapter Three on “The Courier’s Tragedy”, I found myself being split on its interpretation. They spend almost 10 whole pages on just retelling the plot with an occasional comment from Oedipa about how it reminds her of her life, so it would seem like it either reflects the plot or is otherwise significant; however, the director of the play rants against trying to find significance in the story, especially against analyzing the written version of it. The plot prior to this point felt convoluted, however the play within the story was seemingly designed to be extremely convoluted, and once again it brings up the question of relevance. Is it’s extremely complex and convoluted plot an indicator of deeper themes or does its parody like feel and needlessly deliberate confusion indicate that it shouldn’t be deeply analyzed as it is intentionally vague. In terms of character, are the characters within the play supposed to be merely characters, or are they supposed to be people in that universe, since Driblette’s reaction to the mere mention of Trystero’s name is extreme and the reaction to the name, the “aura of ritual reluctance here, offstage, as he had on” (62) mean that he has significance for the characters in the book and not just the characters within the play within the book?