Narration and Characterization in Woolf and Joyce

    Joyce and Woolf abandon linear narrative that presents events and patterns of thought sequentially, as though each part of the story developed as the result of an earlier occurrence. Pope's The Rape of the Lock exemplifies linear narrative. The reader learns first of Belinda's ethereal beauty, then of her card match with the suitors, the assault on her hair, and, finally, its results. In Great Expectations, Dickens exemplifies another degree of narrative complexity by presenting a narrator who relates the events of the story in retrospect. Though two points of view are presented - those of Pip the child and Pip the adult -- the novel develops chronologically.
In the "Nausicaa" chapter of Ulysses, the narrative emerges from Joyce's inventory of the contents of each character's mind. Rather than presenting her characters' thoughts in their entirety, Woolf presents a montage of the events that have caused her characters to think and behave as they do.
To the Lighthouse begins with Mrs. Ramsay speaking to her son James about the prospect of a summer outing. The reader quickly learns a great deal about Mrs. Ramsay's character when she is proviked to anger by her children's ill-treatment of Mr. Tansley: "she [can] not bear incivility to her guests;" wonders if "she might have managed things better - her husband; money; his books;" and is "formidable to behold" when she presides over the family dinner table. During this relatively brief segment of the narrative, Woolf shows Mrs. Ramsay watching Tansley's "bony fingers" through the window, looking at a mirror that reflects her "hair grey and cheek sunk," and standing over her children "looking up from their plates." This apparent hodgepodge of events and experiences creates remarkably vivid characterization that dominates the novel and its narrative elements.
The thoughts that pass through Gerty's mind (in Joyce's Ulysses ) as she sits on the beach are as eclectic as the seemingly unrelated actions performed by Mrs. Ramsay. The reader learns what Gerty thinks about an amazing variety of things: her underwear; the "eggblue chenille" with which she has adorned her hat; "the idea of Cissy saying an unladylike thing;" the "squalling baby" and "the little brats of twins." But whereas Woolf builds her characters out of a vast assortment of actions - all of them actually performed by the characters at various times but presented in the narrative simultaniously - Joyce presents a relatively coherent line of action, but allows the minds of his characters to roam in any direction and for any amount of time. Woolf's collage of characterizing detail consists in large part of external actions; Joyce's of the uninibited thoughts of his characters.
Joyce takes a huge step towards what we might call ultimate omniscience: the reader learns of every thought in a character's head, no matter how irrelevant it may seem. The task of sorting this deluge of information, of assembling it into a conception of character, lies with the reader. We must assume either that Joyce was writing sloppily or that each detail he presents - each thought that crowds Gertey's head a bit more --- contributes something to this growing conception and is therefore indispensable. In Great Expectations , Pip the narrator tells of what the characters do and say -- things the reader would have seen and heard for himself had he been present at the time the story took place; Gerty's motive for lifting her skirt to Leopold would have remained concealed to even most careful observer.

© Bill Jordan, '91 (English 32, 1988)

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Creada: 22/02/2000 Última Actualización: 11/03/2000