Using the Formalistic Approach to Analyze Neuromancer
Length: 992 words (2.8 double-spaced pages)
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The formalistic approach to an open text allows the reader to decide what is important about the words on the page as well as the reasons and actions of the characters themselves. The reader is then able to derive a reasonable explanation for the plot or even an overall theme of the text. "According to the Handbook of Critical Approaches to Literature "when all the words, phrases, metaphors, images, and symbols are examined in terms of each other and of the whole, any literary text worth our efforts will display its own internal logic" (Guerin 75)." When practicing the formalistic approach, the reader must scrutinize the text for tools such as form, texture, style, symbolism, point of view, theme, and so on to portray the beauty of the novel. William Gibson's Neuromancer portrays many of these tools, but it is most important to focus on the overall tone of the story, which is quite evident in the setting. Concentrating on the portrayal of dystopia and the diction that is used to describe it, as well as the repetitive imagery of the color pink, the reader can detect the dark and dreary tone at a more critical level.
Neuromancer continuously represents a dystopia, which is a "bad place", in the setting. This is in contrast to a utopia, which represents a dream world. Neuromancer's settings remain dark, dreary, futuristic, and phony throughout the novel. These characteristics give the reader a sense of sorrow or even a foreshadowing of bad situations. The author portrays this type of setting in the very beginning when he writes, "The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel," (Gibson 3). Already, the reader has an initial look at death and confusion, creating a dismal tone in just the first line. The words even create mystery, leaving the audience in question of what could possibly happen next. Later on in the story, the portrayal of dystopia is still evident when the text states, "Lost, so small amid that dark, hands grown cold, body image fading down corridors of television sky," (Gibson 31). The characters in the novel are unable to escape this dystopian lifestyle since it has taken control of their every thought and action.
Besides acting as a dystopia, or "bad place", a fake and phony setting illustrates the tone as well.
The author describes this inhumane setting as, "the nightclub constellations of the hologram sky, shift, sliding fluid down the axis of darkness, to swarm like live things at the dead center of reality," (Gibson 155). As confusing as this line is, the word "hologram" displays futuristic images and represents how unrealistic the setting can be, compared to what might be the norms of the audience. Gibson further describes his phony world when he writes, "...and saw a giant butterfly banking gracefully against recorded sky," and, "...as they fell to the dark false sand," (164, 210). Words such as "recorded" and "false" prove that the characters' lives could in fact be inside cyberspace, producing a world that is hard to believe. This tone of disbelief and corruption are evident because of all the inhuman things that occur in the novel--robots, computer codes, death, drugs, etc. There are only a few instances when the characters feel somewhat human again. Gibson touches on this aspect when one of his characters, Case, states, "the smell of frying food...a girl's hands locked across the small of his back, in the sweating darkness of a portside coffin," (262). Amidst all this gloom and destruction, it is only normal for Case to experience some kind of nourishing and pleasant feelings. The representation of dystopia, phoniness, and the lack of human characteristics depict a tone that is somewhat distasteful but congruent to the setting of the story.
To see the tone from another point of view, the author utilizes imagery, especially the color pink, to further enhance the thoughts and feelings of the characters. Although unsure of its purpose, the reader can interpret the color pink in many shades. Pink shows weakness, innocence, femininity, or even represents the human flesh. In Neuromancer, Gibson inconspicuously adds in the color pink throughout the novel to display the only part of the characters that is human. For instance, this is apparent when, "Case thought it looked very strange in Deane's manicured pink hands," and, "...(he) looked down the line of sight at Deane's pink, ageless face," (34, 119). This is suggesting that Deane's character acts weak or submissive, or in fact that, since pink signifies human flesh, all humans are deemed insubstantial. Later in the story, when one of the Turing police is murdered, he too is given human characteristics; "...he'd looked down and seen Pierre's blood washing pink across the white tiles," (165). Not only are these characters weak, but they are also pictured as somewhat normal in the story since the color pink gives them a human nature. This realistic tone is further described by other phrases that contain this special color such as "his pink gums", "arms flexed grayish-pink in the glare", "his hair was pink", "the pink and white of mouth parts moving", and so on. The repetition of pink imagery formulates a great significance to that specific color as well as an overall humanistic tone.
The formalistic approach is only one way of breaking down parts of a novel, but it is one of the best ways to interpret certain literary tools that bring the story to life. In Neuromancer, the tone is easier to grasp when the reader can detect the somber dystopia and fake world, as well as the importance of the color pink. Once the tone is established, the reader is fully able to experience the lives of the characters in the setting to which they are coerced to inhabit and successfully perceive the formalistic approach at a new level.