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Narrative Monologue Voice Stuff

Wednesday, November 11, 2009; 08:33 am Leave a comment Go to comments

My blog today will focus on Weldon Thornton’s Voices and Values in Joyce’s Ulysses. The book in general focuses on Joyce’s narrative and literary forms, their connotations, historical underpinnings, and whether or not Joyce is promoting certain narrative/literary modes over others. The general argument given is that Joyce was not “in-line” with the modernist themes of the “realist” novel or the contemporary perspective that the omniscient third-person narrative was archaic in novel writing.

In particular, I focus on chapter 5 “Voices and Values in Later Episodes,” as each of the episodes after 6 (excluding 8 and the last half of “Nausicaa”) are related in that they exhibit literary and narrative forms that Joyce disapproves of for one reason or another. In the section “Penelope,” the feminine interior monologue creates “the only moment in the novel where a figural voice totally obliterates the authorial narrative voice throughout the entire chapter.” Thornton claims that Joyce’s use of the monologue is to exhibit both its strengths and short-comings, and that he has set up the episode for the best possible scenario, having it come at the end (i.e., letting us get acquainted with Molly’s relationships with others and her general situation for an entire book before dropping us in) and allowing zero interactions to occur with the outside world during the monologue. For Ulysses, the form is deftly handled.

There are, however, obvious problems with it. The lack of punctuation makes sense when depicting the wandering un-punctuated thoughts of Molly, but the speaker (thinker?) surely has pauses of thought, changes in inflection, that cannot be conveyed without punctuation. Moreover, this absence of punctuation highlights puzzles and confusion, and actually makes the reader more aware of the author. As Thornton quotes one E. R. Steinberg: “Constantly feeling for the ends of the sentences as he progresses, the reader is continually aware of the difficulty of the reading and conscious of the fact not only that he is reading but that he is solving a puzzle. This awareness, of course, keeps him aware of the author, who presented the difficulty. As well, by completely effacing the narrator the ability to build a “world” examining self and society, Ulysses’ Dublin, breaks down.

I’m not entirely sure I agree with Thornton, in terms of this chapter at least. Afetr reading the chapter, I can agree that occasionally I despised Joyce for putting me into this puzzle, but a lot of the time I was lost in Molly’s thoughts, and keenly aware of only the “Molly” part of that phrase.

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