Fractal Myth

The Art of Narrative.

[Michelle Chapman ©1994]

"Art lives upon discussion, upon experiment, upon curiosity, upon variety of attempt, upon the exchange of views and the comparison of standpoints;" Henry James, The Art of Fiction, 1884.

An essay exploring the narrative techniques used in novels by Charlotte Bronte, Henry James and Thomas Pynchon.

Narrative is the art of telling a story, where the narrative voice mediates between the reader and the text. The story is shaped by the narrator's use of language to present a particular point of view, for "the world is altered and created when it is put into words."(1) The author constructs the narrator's moral values and world view to illustrate and explore the life beliefs of the culture in which the narrative is set. The themes that emerge can be implicit, as the author's life beliefs affect the presentation of the characters, and explicit, as the authors select social concerns and conventions to which they wish to draw the reader's attention.

Narratives are subjective, constructed texts, which can combine many discourses. Investigating and comparing narratives lets us recognise that "definitions of what is 'real' are not static: they change as shifts in ideology allow certain things to be represented, while blinding texts to other things that thereby escape representation."(2) Fictional narratives such as Bronte's Jane Eyre (1847), James' The Turn of the Screw (1895) and Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49 (1965) question the established life beliefs of their culture by exploring the dominant ideologies and proposing alternative viewpoints. By investigating the everyday life beliefs that operate through these three narratives, covering a span of one hundred and eighteen years, we can see how concepts of religion, sexuality, romance, and social organisation have changed in a rapidly developing Western civilisation.

The narrator of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre is the independently ethical Jane, struggling to assert herself against the repressive codes of her society. Under cover of the male pseudonym, Currer Bell, Charlotte Bronte presents the narrative as Jane's 'Autobiography', allowing her to expound feminist discourses about the dominant patriarchal ideology.

Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.
(Jane Eyre p.141)

Jane is 'conscious' of her narrative role, and aware of her power to manipulate language to introduce a particular attitude. In her romance with Mr Rochester, she delights in playing word games, establishing their equality on a personal level, despite the social differences of rank.

Retaining every minute form of respect, every propriety of my station, I could still meet him in argument without fear or uneasy restraint; this suited both him and me.
(Jane Eyre p.187)

Throughout the novel she declares her individuality, and her right to make her own decisions. "Her morality is not a cowardly bowing down to convention but an heroic assertion of the sanctity of the individual soul."(3)

I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will, which I now exert to leave you.
(Jane Eyre p.282)

However, Jane is also a product of her society, and cannot entirely divorce herself from the life beliefs that operate through her culture. Her belief in British superiority is a perfect example. The immorality of Rochester's mistresses, and of Bertha Mason, his mad wife, is obliquely attributed to their foreign nationality, and Jane says of Adele: "As she grew up, a sound English education corrected in a great measure her French defects." (Jane Eyre p.475)

It is on religion that Jane takes her strongest stance in opposition to the hypocrisy that is preached around her. This opposition is carefully defended by Charlotte Bronte, as Currer Bell, in the Preface to the second edition.

Conventionality is not morality. Self-righteousness is not religion. To attack the first is not to assail the last. To pluck the mask from the face of the Pharisee, is not to lift an impious hand to the Crown of Thorns.
(Preface Jane Eyre p.35)

Mr Brocklehurst, the patron of Lowood, embodies all that is objectionable in this religion of patriarchal power. In his first meeting with Jane, the shallowness of his 'moral' standpoint is exposed, as the child answers his doctrine with indisputable logic.

'And what is hell? Can you tell me that?
'A pit full of fire.'
'And should you like to fall into that pit, and to be burning there for ever?
'No, sir.'
'What must you do to avoid it?'
I deliberated a moment: my answer, when it did come, was objectionable: 'I must keep in good health, and not die.'
(Jane Eyre p.64)

Mr Brocklehurst hides his intolerance and hypocrisy under a veneer of piety. He describes the school as "an evangelical, charitable establishment" (Jane Eyre p.96), but his attitude is hardly Christian. His aversion to Julia Severn's naturally curling hair provokes the sanctimonious statement, "Naturally! Yes, but we are not to conform to nature. I wish these children to be the children of Grace." (Jane Eyre p.96) Using Mr Brocklehurst's own words in her narrative, Jane exposes such religion as an artificial construction of society.

Oh, madam, when you put bread and cheese, instead of burnt porridge, into these children's mouths, you may indeed feed their vile bodies, but you little think how you starve their immortal souls!
(Jane Eyre p.95)

In contrast, the influence of Jane's female mentors, Helen Burns and Miss Temple, promotes Jane's development of her religious belief, inciting her to question all she hears and feels. She does not automatically adopt their beliefs, but asserts her own sense of what is morally right, a faith that later allows her to resist the extreme temptation of Mr Rochester's adulterous proposal.

I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself. I will keep to the laws of God; sanctioned by man ... Laws and principles are not for times when there is no temptation: they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be. If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would be their worth?
(Jane Eyre p.334)

In proving her ability to renounce the secular temptation of Mr Rochester's love, Jane's narrative shows her Christian belief in God coexists with her pantheistic faith in Nature. The symbolism of the moon and the chestnut tree give Jane the moral strength she needs, showing the narrative's bond with the religious ideas of Romanticism. Also tempting, St. John Rivers attracts Jane by his sense of vocation, offering her spiritual certainty. Jane, however, cannot ignore the sterility of his life beliefs.

Zealous in his ministerial labours, blameless in his life and habits, he yet did not appear to enjoy that mental serenity, that inward content, which should be the reward of every sincere Christian and practical philanthropist.
(Jane Eyre p.378)

Jane rejects his advances because his religion would destroy her independence. In his disappointment, St. John resorts to the same threat of damnation that Mr Brocklehurst had used.

Refuse to be my wife, and you limit yourself forever to a track of selfish ease and barren obscurity. Tremble lest in that case you should be numbered with those who have denied the faith, and are worse than infidels!
(Jane Eyre p.434)

The similarity between the religious beliefs of St. John and Mr Brocklehurst, with their reliance on dogma rather than real feeling, and the dangers such beliefs pose for Jane, is pointed out by Penelope Nestor. "Such a world is dangerous for women for it accords them no lawful authority and relegates them to the realm of emotions which it views in turn with suspicion and disdain."(4) In contrast, the true nature of Jane's life beliefs is confirmed by Mr Rochester's gradual conversion, as he admits the arrogance governing his previous actions.

Of late, Jane - only - only of late - I began to see and acknowledge the hand of God in my doom. I began to experience remorse, repentance, the wish for reconcilement to my Maker. I began sometimes to pray: very brief prayers they were, but very sincere.
(Jane Eyre p.471)

In constructing a narrative that called the everyday life beliefs of her culture into question, Charlotte Bronte did not confine herself to religion. Jane Eyre is a romance, and the narrative displays a concern with the social dimensions of love. Jane was raised to be conscious of her social inferiority, and when she falls in love with Mr Rochester, she counsels herself to repress her feelings as inappropriate.

He is not of your order: keep to your caste, and be too self-respecting to lavish the love of the whole heart, soul, and strength, where such a gift is not wanted and would be despised.
(Jane Eyre p.192)

When Blanche Ingram arrives as her rival, Jane has too strong a sense of her self-worth not to draw comparisons. Although she admits Blanche's class superiority, and attempts to use this to drive Mr Rochester from her mind, she cannot ignore Blanche's superficiality and arrogance.

I saw all his attentions appropriated by a great lady, who scorned to touch me with the hem of her robes as she passed; who, if ever her dark and imperious eye fell on me by chance, would withdraw it instantly as from an object too mean to merit observation. ... But I could not be jealous, or very rarely; the nature of the pain I suffered could not be explained by that word. Miss Ingram was a mark beneath jealousy: she was too inferior to excite the feeling.
(Jane Eyre p.214-5)

Despite her recognition of the shallowness of their relationship, and her disappointment in Mr Rochester's mercenary motives, Jane refuses to condemn him, accepting his behaviour as part of the everyday life beliefs of his class.

I had thought him a man unlikely to be influenced by motives so commonplace in his choice of a wife; but the longer I considered the position, education, &c., of the parties, the less I felt justified in judging or blaming either him or Miss Ingram for acting in conformity to ideas and principles instilled into them, doubtless, from their childhood. All their class held these principles: I supposed, then, they had reasons for holding them, such as I could not fathom.
(Jane Eyre p.216)

Although he has no plans to marry Blanche Ingram, Mr Rochester shows the extent to which such beliefs have governed his life. His first marriage was arranged to bolster the family fortune, and was disastrous. In his narrative concerning his mistresses, Jane recognises that he has not rejected such principles entirely, reinforcing her own belief that marriage across the social divide causes as much unhappiness as marriage for commercial gain.

'Hiring a mistress is the next worse thing to buying a slave: both are so often by nature, and always by position, inferior: and to live familiarly with inferiors is degrading.'
I felt the truth of these words; and drew from them the certain inference, that if I were so far to forget myself ... to become the successor of these poor girls, he would one day regard me with the same feeling which now in his mind desecrated their memory.
(Jane Eyre p.339)

Like Jane, her cousin, St. John Rivers, refuses to admit his true love for Rosamund Oliver, because it is incompatible with his sense of moral right. Unlike Mr Rochester, he is a socially acceptable husband for Jane, but she soon realises his view of marriage is cold and loveless.

I want a wife: the sole helpmeet I can influence efficiently in life, and retain absolutely till death.
(Jane Eyre p.431)

Jane had willingly undertaken the self-sacrifice of leaving Mr Rochester because her life beliefs labelled adultery as wrong, but she comes to see marrying without love as a greater sin against her self.

He has told me I am formed for labour - not for love: which is true, no doubt. But, in my opinion, if I am not formed for love, it follows that I am not formed for marriage.
(Jane Eyre p.441)

With Jane's return to Mr Rochester, the narrative shows that social conventions regarding marriage and love are as artificially constructed as those concerning religion. Instead, the narrative expresses a belief in true love, which allows a more important equality than that of class.

There was no harassing restraint, no repressing of glee and vivacity with him; for with him I was at perfect ease, because I knew I suited him; all I said or did seemed either to console or revive him. Delightful consciousness! It brought to life and light my whole nature: in his presence I thoroughly lived; and he lived in mine.
(Jane Eyre p.461)

The narrative enhances this equality, through the symbolic fire at Thornfield. The death of Bertha allows Jane to marry Mr Rochester and retain her ethical integrity, while Mr Rochester's injuries reduce him to a physical dependence on Jane that prevents him re-assuming the dominant behaviour that characterised their early relationship. The result is an idyllic happiness for both, as Mr Rochester's tender declaration of constancy makes clear: "our honeymoon will shine our life long: its beams will only fade over your grave or mine." (Jane Eyre p.475)

Henry James' narrative in The Turn of the Screw is also concerned with romance between a governess and her employer, showing the prevalence of such beliefs in nineteenth-century Western culture. In contrast to Jane Eyre, James' narrative provides no happy ending, suggesting instead the danger of unrequited passion. The governess narrating this story is naive and romantic. "We are given a number of oblique glimpses into the young woman's home and early environment. They all point to a stifling narrowness."(5) This governess is dazzled by the social superiority of her employer, as:

this prospective patron proved a gentleman, a bachelor in the prime of life, such a figure as had never risen, save in a dream or an old novel, before a fluttered anxious girl out of Hampshire vicarage.
(The Turn of the Screw p.119)

Like Mr Rochester, this employer appears as a standard of masculine excellence, in a culture where rich men are excused from too close a scrutiny of their morals. The recognition of this fact in the narrative does not criticise but implicitly questions the construction of such conventions.

She figured him as rich, but as fearfully extravagant - saw in him all the glow of high fashion, of good looks, of expensive habits, of charming ways with women.
(The Turn of the Screw p.120)

The employer's eccentricities only increase the governess' romantic dreams, and James' narrative implies the situation is bound to result in disaster. As her predicament becomes increasingly difficult for the governess to deal with, she is prevented from turning to her employer for help, by his express prohibition, and by her feminine pride.

Instead of it even - as a woman reads another - she could see what I myself saw: his derision, his amusement, his contempt for the breakdown of my resignation at being left alone and for the fine machinery I had set in motion to attract his attention to my slighted charms.
The Turn of the Screw p.183)

The Turn of the Screw also uses the narrative technique of telling a story that indirectly draws attention to cultural beliefs, exploring the delegation of responsibility for children to young, inexperienced girls. In the tale of the Archbishop of Canterbury, from whom James derived his story, "The servants, wicked and depraved, corrupt and deprave the children; and the children are bad, full of evil, to a sinister degree." (The Turn of the Screw Appendix p.244) Although James' narrative never clearly states whether the governess' supernatural visitations are real or imagined, either reading raises serious questions about raising children in "a hostile adult world characterised by the absence of moral values."(6) The children's uncle is totally unsuited to the role of guardian and absolves himself of the responsibility.

It had all been a great worry and, on his own part doubtless, a series of blunders, but he immensely pitied the poor chicks and had done all he could; had in particular sent them down to his other house, the proper place for them being of course the country, and kept them there from the first with the best people he could find to look after them, parting even with his own servants to wait on them and going down himself, whenever he might, to see how they were doing.
(The Turn of the Screw p.120)

The failure of his good intentions is shown by the character of those he employs for the purpose. Although the narrative leaves the immorality of Peter Quint and Miss Jessel to rumour and conjecture, "strange passages and perils, secret disorders, vices more than suspected," (The Turn of the Screw p.152) there is little doubt that their actions during life, and the mysterious circumstances of their deaths left a disturbing influence on Bly and its inhabitants. The narrator, who arrives to replace them, is even less suited for such a heavy responsibility.

She was young, untried, nervous: it was a vision of serious duties and little company, of really great loneliness.
(The Turn of the Screw p.121)

As governess, she is entranced by her romantic expectations, and anticipates the unaccustomed power her position gives her over the children. "To watch, teach, 'form' little Flora would too evidently be the making of a happy and useful life."(The Turn of the Screw p.125) The flexibility of narrative to present diverse cultural beliefs, and the use of language to illustrate particular perspectives can be seen as Jane Eyre and James' governess describe their charges. The governess in The Turn of the Screw continually emphasises the angelic beauty of the children, attributing to them "the deep sweet serenity indeed of one of Raphael's holy infants" (The Turn of the Screw p.125). This infatuation is in direct contrast to Jane Eyre's practical assessment of her charge's attributes.

This, par parenthese, will be thought cool language by persons who entertain solemn doctrines about the angelic nature of children, and the duty of those charged with their education to conceive for them an idolatrous devotion. but I am not writing to flatter parental egotism, to echo cant, or to prop up humbug; I am merely telling the truth.
(Jane Eyre p.140)

In her narrative, James' governess freely admits her own limitations, but does not seem concerned by them. "He was too clever for a bad governess, for a parson's daughter to spoil."(The Turn of the Screw p.168) Her questioning and affirmation of her own competency leaves the reader in doubt as to the validity of her viewpoint, especially in her interpretation of the children's behaviour.

...even while they pretend to be lost in their fairytale they're steeped in the vision of the dead returned to them ... I know, as if I were crazy; and it's a wonder I'm not.
(The Turn of the Screw p.180)

As Muriel Shine points out, "At no point in the story does James have Flora or Miles do anything that might not be construed as perfectly normal behaviour for children of their class and obvious intelligence."(7) The intelligence of Miles and Flora raises a further question about the education of children by governesses not much older than the children themselves.

They performed the dizziest feats of arithmetic, soaring quite out of my feeble range, and perpetrated, in higher spirits than ever, geographical and historical jokes.
(The Turn of the Screw p.204-5)

Finally, the fate of the children in the narrative confirms James' position on the cultural practice of raising children by such methods. Despite the governess' conviction that her assessment of the situation is correct, it is her that the children come to fear.

It was not against the possible re-entrance of Miss Jessel on the scene that she protested - it was conspicuously and passionately against mine.
(The Turn of the Screw p.217)

With Flora suffering serious illness, and Miles dead, it is obvious that the governess' methods of addressing the problem were less than successful.

In creating the atmosphere of a ghost-story, Henry James exploits the subjective nature of narrative, surrounding the story with ambiguity and making it impossible to decide exactly what the facts underlying the governess' narrative are. "This is the crucial point. Everything else is incidental. Believe that the children saw, and the tale is one thing. Believe that they did not see, and it is another - as different as light from darkness ... One way, it is a tale of corrupted childhood. The other, it is a tale of incorruptible childhood."(8) This ambiguity is compounded by the multiple narrators involved in the tale, each adding subjective impressions, until the reader's own life beliefs determine whether the narrative is a supernatural or psychological tale of horror.

The governess' credibility is established by her being personally known to Douglas: "She was the most agreeable woman I've ever known in her position; she'd have been worthy of any whatever." (The Turn of the Screw p.117) and by the existence of her narrative as a written manuscript, but is called into doubt by her own words, as she admits the imprecision governing her narrative process.

But these fancies were not marked enough not to be thrown off, and it is only in the light, or the gloom, I should say, of other and subsequent matters that they now come back to me.
(The Turn of the Screw p.125)

Her confidante, Mrs Grose, who provides the only corroborating evidence is also shown to be a less than reliable source.

She offered her mind to my disclosure as, had I wished to mix a witch's broth and proposed it with assurance, she would have held out a large clean saucepan.
(The Turn of the Screw p.177)

As H.C.Goddard points out, "we can trace the art with which James hypnotises us into forgetting that it is the governess' version of the story to which we are listening, and lures us, as the governess unconsciously lured Mrs Grose, into accepting her colouring of the facts for the facts themselves."(9) However, for even a slightly superstitious reader there is enough evidence in the narrative to create the impression that the governess might be correct in her assumptions, no matter how reprehensible her methods of dealing with the problem.

Thomas Pynchon, in The Crying of Lot 49, also uses narrative ambiguity to create a sense of uncertainty in his readers, while investigating the life beliefs that underlie his narrative. He is "intent upon abstracting invalid or absurd philosophical, historical and cultural ideas of our time and putting them in the richest possible comic framework. He begins with the premise that such ideas are no longer adequate guides or interpretations of modern human life ... the American dream has become a nightmare."(10) Unlike Jane Eyre and The Turn of the Screw, the narrator of The Crying of Lot 49 does not appear as a character in the narrative. Information is transferred to us through this 'objective' narrator, as Oedipa Maas, the 'heroine', finds herself wandering in a world of increasing subjectivity. The narrative investigates the modern obsession with order, certainty and stability to show there is no longer one dominant belief system, but a multitude of contingent and overlapping cultures, each with their own constructed ideologies.

As in Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, the traditional beliefs of religion are questioned in The Crying of Lot 49, as Oedipa's search for meaning is side-tracked by the multitude of belief systems she encounters. The Christian God taken for granted in the nineteenth-century narratives is here reduced to an expletive, or an eccentric weather phenomenon.

She looked around, spooked at the sunlight pouring in all the windows, as if she had been trapped at the centre of some intricate crystal, and said, 'My God.'
'And I feel him, certain days, days of certain temperature,' said Mr Thoth, 'and barometric pressure. Did you know that? I feel him close to me.'
'Your grandfather?'
'No, my God.'
(The Crying of Lot 49 p.64)

Pynchon's narrative suggests the twentieth century no longer has certainty regarding religious beliefs, as the power traditionally identified with the deity can be equally attributed to man-made objects.

The can knew where it was going, she sensed, or something fast enough, God or a digital machine, might have computed in advance the complex web of its travel;
(The Crying of Lot 49 p.24)

In the narrative, the modern 'god of the machine' with its tremendous capacity for storing and transmitting information, appears just as likely to possess absolute meaning as any supernatural being.

For it was like walking among matrices of a great digital computer, the zeroes and ones twinned above, hanging like balanced mobiles right and left, ahead, thick, maybe endless.
(The Crying of Lot 49 p.125)

Oedipa's search, sparked by the legacy of Pierce Inverarity, encompasses many other alternative human life beliefs, from the secular anarchist miracle proposed by Jesus Arrabal, to the Scurvamite belief that "Creation was a vast intricate machine" (The Crying of Lot 49 p.107) with the Scurvamites under God's protection, while all else ran on "a brute automatism that led to eternal death." (The Crying of Lot 49 p.107) For Oedipa, the recognition that religious belief is entirely subjective comes when she experiments with Maxwell's Demon, a Victorian mixture of science and superstition.

Did the true sensitive see more? In her colon now she was afraid, growing more so, that nothing would happen. Why worry, she worried; Nefastis is a nut, forget it, a sincere nut. The true sensitive is the one that can share in the man's hallucinations, that's all.
(The Crying of Lot 49 p.74)

Comparing the three narratives, we can see that the life beliefs of Western culture concerning religion have changed significantly, from Jane Eyre's absolute personal faith in the powers of God and Nature, to Henry James' narrative in which nothing can be absolutely 'known', and finally, to Thomas Pynchon's construction of America, where anything is possible but nothing can be proven.

Like Jane Eyre and The Turn of the Screw, the narrative in The Crying of Lot 49 investigates cultural beliefs about love. However, in this narrative, a romantic view of love has been replaced by casual sexual encounters. The lack of any real feeling in relationships between men and women is illustrated in the narrative by Oedipa's affair with Metzger.

She may have fallen asleep once or twice. She awoke at last to find herself getting laid; she'd come in on a sexual crescendo in progress, like a cut to a scene where the camera's already moving.
(The Crying of Lot 49 p.27)

Her relationship with her husband, Mucho Maas, is just as casual, taking adultery for granted. This frank acceptance of sexuality, including sex with minors, is in sharp contrast to the innuendo and shocked avoidance of Jane Eyre and James' governess:

a Sharon, Linda or Michele, seventeen and what is known as a hip one, whose velveted eyes ultimately, statistically would meet Mucho's and respond, and the thing would develop then groovy as it could when you found you couldn't get statutory rape really out of the back of your law-abiding head.
(The Crying of Lot 49 p.30)

Throughout the narrative, the impression of sexual freedom that Pynchon creates is subverted by the comical settings in which relationships occur. For Oedipa this 'free love' reaches ridiculous heights when she meets the 'guru', Nefastis.

'Have sexual intercourse,' replied Nefastis. 'Maybe there'll be something about China tonight. I like to do it while the they talk about Viet Nam, but China is best of all. You think about all those Chinese. Teeming. That profusion of life. It makes it sexier, right?'
'Gah,' Oedipa screamed, and fled.
(The Crying of Lot 49 p.74)

As with the narrative's investigation of religion, The Crying of Lot 49 proposes a multiplicity of sexual experiences, suggesting that even love is uncertain. "From this day I swear to stay off love: hetero, homo, bi, dog or cat, car, every kind there is." (The Crying of Lot 49 p.80) As Oedipa moves through her search for meaning, she finds herself increasingly alone, unable to rely on the men in her life for companionship. "All the men who might (should?) help Oedipa recede from her in one way or another - into fantasy, hallucination, some kind of private universe which has no room for any relationships."(11) The gender equality which Jane Eyre strives for, Oedipa has achieved, but she finds her position lonely and unsatisfying, and she regrets the loss of her romantic dreams.

...they are stripping away, one by one, my men. My shrink, pursued by Israelis, has gone mad; my husband, on LSD, gropes like a child further and further into the rooms and endless rooms of the elaborate candy house of himself and away, hopelessly away, from what has passed, I was hoping forever, for love; my one extra-marital fella has eloped with a depraved fifteen-year-old; my best guide back to the Trystero has taken a Brody. Where am I?
(The Crying of Lot 49 p.105)

Finally, an investigation of Pynchon's narrative shows his concern with the failure of life beliefs about social organisation. The WASTE system which Oedipa tracks through the cities of California is the focus of this concern with alternative cultures. As Robert Skylar points out, "The w.a.s.t.e. system puts to use moral and human energies that the surface system - the United States Government and the dominant American way of life, as Pynchon makes explicit - lets go to waste."(12) As with Oedipa's sexual experiences, the narrative's treatment of American culture is taken to ridiculous levels.

He was kissing his mother goodbye, using his tongue. 'I'll write, ma,' he kept saying. 'Write by WASTE,' she said, 'remember. The government will open it if you use the other. The dolphins will be mad.' 'I love you, ma,' he said. 'Love the dolphins,' she advised him. 'Write by WASTE.'
(The Crying of Lot 49 p.85)

The WASTE system itself is related to attempts to communicate outside the culture. Since the traditional methods of ordering society have failed to provide the democratic freedom of the American Dream, the narrative proposes, the majority of people have withdrawn from the mainstream into alternative underground worlds. "Last night, she might have wondered what undergrounds apart from the couple she knew of communicated by WASTE system. By sunrise she could legitimately ask what undergrounds didn't." (The Crying of Lot 49 p.86) This discovery of worlds within worlds further disturbs Oedipa's certainty that her own world is 'real', leading to paranoia, which the narrative suggests is becoming the culture's most pervasive life belief. In a world where nothing can be proved or disproved, paranoid theories abound:

'an underground of the unbalanced, possibly, but then how can you blame them for being maybe a little bitter? Look what's happening to them. In school they got brainwashed ... Only one man per invention. Then when they grew up they found they had to sign all their rights to a monster like Yoyodyne; got stuck on some 'project' or 'taskforce' or 'team' and started being ground into anonymity. Nobody wanted them to invent - only perform their little role in a design ritual, already set down for them in some procedures handbook.
(The Crying of Lot 49 p.61)

If life beliefs are subjective and artificially constructed, by stifling creativity and inventiveness the mainstream bureaucracy can more easily impose its own 'truth' on the people. Dr Hilarius admits as much to Oedipa in the narrative as he counsels her to cling to her beliefs, for by constructing her own alternative world she retains her individuality. To do otherwise it to join the machine.

'I came', she said, 'hoping you could talk me out of a fantasy.'
'Cherish it!' cried Hilarius, fiercely. 'What else do any of you have? Hold it tightly by its little tentacle, don't let the Freudians coax it away or the pharmacists poison it out of you. Whatever it is, hold it dear, for when you lose it you go over by that much to the others. You begin to cease to be.'
(The Crying of Lot 49 p.96)

Of course, Dr Hilarius is also experiencing paranoid delusions.

In investigating the cultural beliefs present in these three narratives, we move from a questioning of the traditionally dominant and accepted ideology, through increasing levels of ambiguity to a world where no one view is 'correct', and where ideologies overlap. Jane Eyre revolts against the stifling tradition of male superiority in religion and in romance, refusing to compromise her individual life beliefs for those of others. In The Turn of the Screw, the governess' narration calls the process of ideological construction into question, showing that within a culture different life beliefs can have equal validity, or at least be equally plausible, and that our interpretation of narrative depends on our own life beliefs. Finally, Oedipa's quest for meaning shows the confusion that results when multiple life beliefs co-exist, and one tries to find 'reality', only to be shown that, however they are constructed, individual life beliefs are as close to reality as one can get. Narratives are, by definition, subjective stories, containing conscious and unconscious social evaluations. Investigating narrative, therefore, necessarily involves investigating the everyday life beliefs that operate through a culture.


1. Martin,W., Recent Theories of Narrative, p.78.
2. Tambling,J., Narrative and Ideology, p.96.
3. Martin,R.B., The Accents of Persuasion, p.84.
4. Nestor,P., Women Writers - Charlotte Bronte p.65.
5. Goddard,H.C., 'A Pre-Freudian Reading of The Turn of the Screw' in Twentieth Century Interpretations (ed. Tompkins,J.) p.64.
6. Shine,M. The Fictional Children of Henry James p.107.
7. ibid., p.138.
8. Goddard, op. cit., p.84.
9. ibid, p.73.
10. Henkle, R.B., 'Pynchon's Tapestries on the Western Wall' in Pynchon: Twentieth Century Views (ed. Mendelson,E.,) p.106.
11. Tanner, T., Thomas Pynchon p.61.
12. Skylar,R., 'An Anarchist Miracle' in Pynchon: Twentieth Century Views (ed. Mendelson,E.) p.95.


Primary Sources:

Bronte, Charlotte
Jane Eyre
(Penguin Classics, 1985).

James, Henry
The Turn of the Screw and Other Stories
(The World's Classics, 1992).

Pynchon, Thomas
The Crying of Lot 49
(Picador, 1979).

Secondary Sources:

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Marker's comments.

80% - A well-conceived argument. You have a good eye for the relevant question. (You sometimes need to treat quoted material more analytically. And I don't think you need to be as dependent as you sometimes seem to be on the views of the critics.) A solid semester's work.

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