Authorial Vs. Figural Narrative Situations In Coetzee’s Boyhood

989 words - 4 pages

Boyhood is a story of initiation with autobiographical characteristics when it comes to the content of the text. However, unlike the conventional narratological pattern of most autobiographies (first person, past tense), the narrator in Boyhood is an omniscient third person one, speaking in the present tense. The use of pronouns: “he,” “his mother,” “his father,” and “his brother,” rather than their names, enforces a sparse, universal feel, yet at the same time, Coetzee the individual, is evident and distinct. The fictional memoir is a combination of both authorial and figural narrative situations: the heterodiegetic narratological structure provides distance, a remove from the subject, but through psycho-narration we, as the implied reader, are provided limited perspective within the adolescent representation of Coetzee.
The intriguing question is why Coetzee tells his story in the third person. I believe that this is a way to simulate a partitioned consciousness- the protagonist experiencing mental stress with the coming-of-age difficulties he faces. Coetzee is an anti-naturalist: his hyper-self-conscious approach to the story actively opposes an effort to detect reliable truth or certitude. The implied reader is on guard from the first line on the first page: “They live on a housing estate outside the town of Worcester...” Immediately, the reader questions the author’s choice to write about himself and his family in third person; the narrative perspective is conveyed as evasive and slippery, the chances of a myriad of multitudinous accounts and rendering. I believe the reasoning behind this narrative form mostly has to do with distance: the distance in time between the adult writing the book and the child represented in it (the apparent “I” is out of date, so he writes about himself in the third person to regard his past behavior more objectively), the distance between experience and reminiscence, and the distance between writer and text. By not narrating directly, Coetzee is detached from the story.
It becomes evident that the distance between the author and the text has a domino effect on the implied reader with the text. The character presented to the reader is an isolated and isolating figure, one who challenges the reader’s sympathies not only through point of view but through the actions and perceptions conveyed to us by the narrator. The heterodiegetic narrative structure increases both the alienation and the distance by minimizing the utilization of the protagonist’s name. Naming is never done by the narrator- the voice representing the consciousness; John Coetzee is referred to as “he,” and the use of pronouns periodically causes semantic ambiguity in place of actual naming, resulting in brief moments where one might wonder which “he” the narrator is addressing.
However, at the same time, the narrator is constantly providing the reader with internal focalization of the young Coetzee, further complicating the relationship...

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