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Authorial Vs. Figural Narrative Situations in Coetzee’s Boyhood Essays

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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 ...


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...or and objective viewer (with the implied reader), yet the figural narrative structure clearly illustrates his perceived self and personality while growing up, by accessing his feelings and thoughts. He shares his life experiences with the reader, that helped shape the man he is today, from the perspective of an observer, almost as if he is observing his now-distant self. It seems the author Coetzee wanted it to sound more like a description of his childhood than the actual childhood. Maybe it was more comfortable writing about himself as a “he,” enforcing the feeling upon himself that it was someone else’s biography. In fact, Boyhood may very well be “someone else’s biography:” we are not shown the author, but the carefully crafted self-projection of a boy the author once was, permitting the implied reader to examine, sympathize, and evaluate Coetzee’s past life.


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