Literary Analysis: "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat"

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A narrative is constructed to elicit a particular response from its audience. In the form of a written story, authors use specific narrative strategies to position the ‘ideal reader’ to attain the intended understanding of the meanings in the text. Oliver Sacks’ short story The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat is an unusual short story because it does not display conventional plot development; the story does not contain conflict or resolution of conflict. The genre of the story is also difficult to define because it reads as an autobiographical account of an experience Sacks had with a patient while working as a neurologist. Although it is arguable that the narrative is a work of non-fiction, it is nevertheless a representation, distinct from a reflection of the real events. It is a construction, Sacks chose the elements that were included and omitted in the narrative and used narrative strategies to position readers to process the signs in the text and produce reach the dominant understanding. This blurring of truth and fiction is similar to that in the genre of ‘new journalism’. Although, rather than being a journalist writing a fictional piece of journalism, Sacks is a doctor writing a fictional medical analysis. To influence readers’ comprehension of the narrative, Sacks utilised the point of view strategy of subjective narration, atypical in this short story in that a characterisation or representation of Oliver Sacks is the narrator and Oliver Sacks the person is the real author. The story is character-driven rather than plot-driven and regardless of how accurate a depiction of the real people the characters are, they are constructions. Sacks gave the characters of Doctor P. and his namesake admirable and sympathetic trait...

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...tation test where a person were to read the story without the knowledge that the real author is also the narrator and a character, it would probably be read as a detailed work of fiction. Because readers have the knowledge that Oliver Sacks is in fact a neurologist, it changes the meanings in the text. This is how the real author is distinct from the implied author; the implied author is what the reader can deduce from the material presented in the text, without any knowledge of the real author’s context. The knowledge that Oliver Sacks is in reality a neurologist also positions readers to accept the narrator’s version of events because they would be inclined to accept the privileged and authoritative narrative voice. The techniques of point of view, subjective narration and characterisation therefore position readers to accept the meanings presented in the text.
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