Essay on Analysis Of Djuna Barnes 's Nightwood

Essay on Analysis Of Djuna Barnes 's Nightwood

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In her 1936 novel Nightwood, Djuna Barnes explores colorful facets of the characters that we may liken to the dazzling performers in a popular Paris cabaret or cirque noir (p. 11). Although readers may argue that the novel’s central character is the “tall girl with the body of a boy,” whom we come to know as Mademoiselle Robin Vote, I agree with critics who claim, Dr. Matthew Dante O’Connor is the main character. Evan as O’Connor is serving as a friend and confidante to other characters in the novel, he captivating us with his woven tales of love and love lost (p. 46). Without O’Connor, who seems to know “everyone” and everything, there is not another obvious character who could narrate the story in his place (p. 165). According to some, “the reason the doctor knows everything is because he’s been everywhere at the wrong time and has now become anonymous” (p. 82). Ultimately, but only after several readings, I agree with T.S. Eliot, who suggests O’Connor gives the book “its vitality” (p. xii).
Of the many clues into the doctor’s prominence in the story, possibly the most subtle is that Barnes introduces Dr. O’Connor by name immediately after we are aware of him across the room at a party (p. 14). Generally, Barnes describes a character with much greater detail before she finally reveals the name.
To further support O’Connor’s role as a main character, Barnes devotes much of the story to describe his effeminate mannerisms. Barnes describes the doctor as someone who carried his hands “like a dog who is walking on his hind legs,” we learn because he would pray he would “wake up in the morning without finding [his] hands on [his] hips” (pp. 32, 130). As an affirmation of his sexuality, and possibly the reason the other women in the s...


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...ars everything. He takes us to his favorite establishment, the Cafe’ de la Mairie du VI6 (p. 29); He takes us to his home, which was a cross between a “chambre à couche and a boxer’s training camp” where “he dresses to lie beside himself” (pp. 79, 80); and he takes us to work (p. 33). He takes us to the parties he attends (pp. 14, 70); and he takes us to the opera (pp. 69, 99). He takes us to “Rotten Row” for an encounter with a “Tuppeny Upright” after which, he takes us to church for some much-needed cleansing of his soul (pp. 130-31). Finally, the self-proclaimed doctor allows us to see him at his most vulnerable state, when he is in full drag (p. 79). Because of the way Barnes reveals the doctor to us it is quite possible that we know him better than he knows himself (p. 96). Our familiarity with him is what makes Matthew O’Connor the main character of Nightwood.

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