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Dual Narrations Effect Upon The Reader English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 763 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Michael Frayn wrote the Novel Spies in an irregular and highly significant style through the use of a dual narration. Stephen Wheatley is a character that Frayn uses to illustrate emotions and feelings from almost any age in life, through Stephen literally narrating from more than one stage in his life. This use of dual narration across several ages is very effective in allowing a much broader audience to relate to the book; it expresses the thoughts of both adult Stephen and Stephen as a child, allowing us to access both the wisdom and personal reflections of the adult Stephen whilst simultaneously witnessing the excitement and naivety of a younger Stephen.

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In the second chapter, we are introduced to the other part of the novel, the third person narrative from younger Stephen’s perspective. The narrator begins referring to himself as ‘Stephen Wheatley’, showing his innate struggle for identity, as he is no longer referring to himself as ‘I’ or ‘me but in the third person such as ‘him’ or ‘he’. Through doing this, the narrator is deliberately separating himself from the younger Stephen perhaps suggesting that he is no longer that ‘unsatisfactory’ young child he reminisces upon. The use of the dual narrative here is already shaping the structure of the novel as well as the reader’s interpretation of it as he is implying to the reader that he isn’t Stephen Wheatley, and that what he sees is a completely different person, Stefan Weitzler.

In chapter 5, Stephen finds himself in a situation that is likely to be the most frightening he has faced in his life, not only does he come close to being hit by a train but he also comes close to being discovered by Keith’s mother. This changes the narrative voice of the novel as he expresses his terror. ‘We lie like terrified worshippers prostrate before a visiting god as the great dust bogles fill the sky above us’ the fearful narrative tone highlights the novel’s bildungsroman storyline as it shows Stephen being not quite as brave as he would like to be and is in fact very innocent and timid. Frayn’s use of such intense, complex descriptive words coupled with the almost childlike hyperbole and imagination used, gives the effect of both sides of Stephen amalgamating, and also emphasise how precarious the situation is and makes the reader fear for ‘young’ Stephen’s safety.

The use of the dual narrative also allows Frayn to bring another aspect of interpretation into the story. Due to the fact that the story is told from more than one perspective, one must accept that there is somewhat of an unreliable narrative. This is in many cases a benefit to the story and helps to add mystery and an another layer of reader interpretation, in that the reader must decide which Stephen to trust, consequently allowing one reader’s chosen version of events to be different, in many ways, to another’s, however in others parts of the book, I believe it to be deliberately frustrating for the reader. The narrator begins doing this very early in the novel, when he ‘half-remembers’ things and finds ‘it’s often hard to remember the exact words’. Here, the narrator is not only warning the reader of the possibility that some of the story may be hard to remember or slightly skewed, but also shaping the way in which he tells the story. This theme of unreliability yet again appears in Chapter 2, when he asks himself, ‘or have I got this back to front?’ The language here is very colloquial and almost conversational, opening up to the reader and allowing them to fully engage with the story through the use of rhetorical questions. Also, it begins to dawn upon the reader how honest the narrator is in the novel, which is a very interesting concept as he regularly contradicts what he has previously said and allows himself to bring new assumptions to play, once more, shifting the reader’s grasp and interpretation of the novel itself.

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In conclusion through the use of the dual narrative, Frayn has created a highly mysterious and engaging novel, which allows for a reasonably large degree of interpretation from the reader. He uses the unreliability that comes with having more than one narrator to great effect and permits the reader to in some cases decide whether or not to believe certain parts of the story, allowing for even greater interpretation and reading into the novel.


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