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As a result of this the reader is compelled to read on and in doing so the connection with Oskar becomes stronger.
The characterization of Oskar is interesting; he is a precocious polymath but also damaged and traumatised. Oskar’s trauma stems from the loss of his father at the hands of the 9/11 atrocity. Clear signs of trauma are displayed by Oskar, none more so than that of repetition. Oskar begins his repetition by listening to his fathers last words on a voicemail left on the family answering machine over and over as well as timing the last message. As a result of the last message Oskar concludes that his father must have died when the towers collapsed. The very fact that he replays the messages over and over makes his fathers death less abstract as it would be if he had died of natural causes.
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This uncertainty adds to Oskar’s original trauma as he succumbs to what Sigmund Freud called repetition compulsion as “he cannot escape from this compulsion to repeat” (Benjamin 147) the event over and over in his mind. This repetition only heightens Oskar’s trauma as he cannot put memories of his fathers’ death to rest.
Another reoccurring factor is Oskar’s repetitive use of the phrase heavy boots which it can be argued is a metaphor for his trauma and also his guilt. Guilt that he survived the day but also guilt over whether or not he loved his father enough. The fact that Oskar viewed his father as “just an ordinary dad” (Foer 159) whom he wished was famous shows that Oskar does not want his fathers death to be trivialized because even though over 3000 people perished in the disaster, his fathers death holds significance.
Oskar is a creative thinker but also an over thinker who often over analyzes things, this coupled with him continuously inventing keeps his mind busy and stops him going crazy, “I needed to do something, like sharks, who die if they don’t swim” (Foer 87)
In contrast to this over thinking, Oskar’s curiosity has suffered at the hands of his trauma “I wanted to know everything I told him but that isn’t true anymore.” (Foer 2)
The nearest Oskar gets to breaking this repetitive cycle is when he hides the answering machines but this only goes to show that Oskar is also suffering another typical symptom of trauma – denial. By hiding the messages Oskar is denying the impact the messages have had upon him.
Oskar begins his search for the lock that will fit the key he finds in his fathers closet but finds freedom from his guilt and his trauma.
Foer’s structuralism is sporadic at best; photographs are inserted regularly which is extremely effective in making the reader engage fully with the book as, to quote Roland Barthes (Barthes 84)
“What the photograph reproduces to infinity has occurred only once: the photograph mechanically repeats what could never be repeated existentially.”
The juxtaposition of images in the written text seizes the readers’ attention and controls the thought process of the reader whilst creating a meta-text which is much more than ink and paper. In the words of Napoleon Bonaparte “a picture speaks a thousand words.” However Jean Paul Sartre argues that “words are loaded pistols” (Nelson 1) and therefore just as powerful.
The narrative voice changes regularly so the reader has to differentiate which character is indeed speaking as “narrative continuity was broken” (Tambling 49 ) but this is easily accomplished by recognising each of the narrator’s distinctive style.
Oskar’s grandmother narrates in the first person through letters she wrote to Oskar and just like Oskar she has suffered from trauma due to the Dresden bombings which killed her sister. She, however, is happy to leave her past behind which is shown through the blank pages she uses to forget the past; she creates blankness in mind and in publication. She creates places of nothingness where she can become invisible and hide from her trauma.
Foer structures Grandmothers narrative in a very specific and static manner, all her letters begin with lines in a uniform pattern, no paragraph is distinguishable from the last, she uses blank pages and images are strategically placed. This disjointed writing indicates that she is suffering from been stuck in a place with no possibility of transition. She uses large spaces between her writing which is a connotation for avoidance; she is avoiding writing words and phrases that remind her of the traumatic events she has suffered. She also feels guilt that she survived but her sister did not because as Cathy Caruth states “survival itself can be a crisis.” (Caruth 9)
The blank pages symbolise how Grandmother is in denial, denying her past by refusing to writer her life story due to picking the keys from the keyboard.
Grandmother is unable to process the shock she suffers whilst witnessing the twin towers burning as is expressed in the way Foer structures her narrative describing planes crashing into the building, people covered in dust. This is repeated on numerous occasions showing that she, like Oskar, is suffering from repetition compulsion.
Conversely Oskar’s Grandfather is aphasic for reasons unknown, it could however be a symbol for the loss of his son. He communicates through his notebooks which provide the most interesting narrative structure of the novel. The note book consists of various statements with red correction marks on most pages gradually increasing until the page is a sea of red ink, which could symbolise his wish to erase and correct the past. Just like Grandmother he too has suffered the trauma from the Dresden buildings, he lost his wife (grandmothers’ sister) to the bombs and this has a significant impact upon him. Grandfather’s use of single lines on a page shows, like grandmother, that he has a hard time communicating both in the present but also about the past and someone who does not value himself.
Foer’s use of eccentric narrative structure works extremely well and fully engages the readers attention as James Phelan avows that “We have three points of view (though only pone narrative voice since all the characters viewpoints are expressed in in-direct style)” (Chatman 217)
McEwan’s bildungsroman novel Atonement has the narrative voice of an omniscient third person as “the narrator simply does not refer to himself at all” (Chatman 209)
The novel itself works on a bivalent temporal system and is a metafiction as it “exploits the idea that it is (only) fiction, a fiction about fiction.” (Bennett 209)
The story opens with the reader being introduced to a 13 year old girl known as Briony Tallis whom, Just like Oskar Briony is precocious, we quickly establish her as the implied author. Booth suggests that “the implied author appears to be an anthropomorphic entity, often designated as the authors’ second self” (Rimmon-Kenan 89)
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Part one uses six different viewpoints which make the structure a lot more complex than any other part of the novel. The concluding London 1999 section of the novel bears the initials B.T revealing that Briony has been the author throughout the novel, and is intradiegetically narrated.
The structure of parts one and two are written in a way that suggests that they are indeed a third person autobiography although Culler argues that “narrators do not have true omniscience.” (Herman 391)
McEwan, like Foer, uses letters between characters to show communication but the differing perspectives are not as easily distinguishable as in Foer’s novel as they are interwoven in the plot.
As the final coda reveals that it is Briony who has written the novel it becomes clear that she is no longer omniscient as she is indeed objective as “an objective narrative does not get into the minds of the characters” (McMahan 140)
McEwan’s use of characterisation can be best viewed through Paul Marshall, a minor yet significant character. Paul is by all accounts a refined and honourable young man deriving from high class.
However he is also somewhat of a paradoxical figure as it his heinous crime (the rape of Lola) that sets the whole novel in motion. From the beginning it is evident that he is arrogant as witnessed by his insistence on making the family cocktails, a duty normally expected as the host not the guest at a house party. The fact that the cocktail was not “particularly refreshing” (McEwan 125) only highlighted the social protocol he had broken.
After Paul subtle touches Cecilia in a sexual manner and is rebuffed he turns his attention to Lola who accepts his advances until he becomes too heavy handed and leaves a mark upon her. As Paul is from high society the noise created by this action is dismissed by the others as he is from a class that would not act in such a manner and certainly would not be included in Leon’s friends if he was not a respectable man.
At dinner Paul is brash and impolite yet makes no apology for it.
After dinner it is Paul who Briony sees raping Loa but due to her disapproving of Robbie and Cecilia she accuses Robbie who is sentenced to prison as he is from a lower class.
Lola who knows the truth ideally stands by and lets an innocent man go to prison for a crime he did not commit, ironically she and Paul would later marry, uniting the binary opposition of good and evil – rapist and victim. This follows Levi-Strauss’ view that all narratives are organised around conflict by binary oppositions. This view is supported by Todorov’s suggestion that “all narratives follow a strict pattern of equilibrium followed by disequilibrium and ending with re equilibrium.” (Harari 24)
As a result of this the novel is Briony’s act of atonement for the crime against life and love she committed on the fateful day in the summer of 1935, but as Briony said “atonement was always an impossible task” (McEwan 371)
Atonement is an anachrony and is written in the past tense for the first three parts which forms a retrospective polychromic narrative which defamiliarizes the readers as this is not revealed until the conclusion as it relies on analepsis, which is acceptable as “Novelistic time is time without nicks, time in which multiple forces and choices develop gradually.” (Waugh 221)
As Briony is the protagonist and focal point of the novel Todorov’s belief that “we shall understand narrative better if we know that the character is a noun, the action a verb” (Harland 226) seems somewhat apt. Atonement is internally focalized “with this great variety of form concerning perspectivesâ€¦Atonement provides extraordinary many aspects of multi-perspectival narration.” (Mauter 16)
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