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Focalization in Richard Wrights Bright and Morning Star
1. Introduction 3
2. Narration 4
3. Focalization 5 - 6
4. Conclusion 6
5. Bibliography 7
The presentation of events in narratology differs greatly with the purpose of the text. Certain events would seem less authentic if they were to be presented in a third-person narrative, other events just can’t be described objectively within a first-person narrative. Sometimes the events call for a non-involved description but on the other hand are too personal not to include thoughts and views of the character. In this case a different perspective is needed to view the events, not to describe them. For analytical purposes one can assume that the different aspects on narration are chosen for reason by the`implied author´, a substitute agent which is "the governing consciousness of the work as a whole." (Shlomith Rimmon-Kenan, Narrative Fiction Contemporary Poetics, London / New York, 1983). This agent therefore presents the events through the mediation of a certain perspective, the focalizer, and verbalizes them through a different agent, the narrator. The analysis of both narrator and focalizer can give further insights into the purpose of a story and can help to overcome hermeneutical differences in the interpretation.
I will begin my narratological analysis of Richard Wrights Bright and Morning Star with the aspect of the narrator and his role and purpose in the interpretation. Since the aspect of narration is not my main topic I will keep the analysis short and in direct relation to the focalizer. I will then concentrate on the aspect of focalization and the different levels of pervasion of the focalized. The degree to which the lead character is focalized can be directly related to aspects of interpretation and certain linguistic features which I will specify. I will then conclude my analysis by showing that the described aspects serve to evoke a certain perspective and atmosphere and are therefore useful for contextual interpretation.
In Richard Wrights Bright and Morning Star the events are mediated through a third-person narrator who describes events past to him. Using the terminology of Rimmon-Kenan the narrating agent can be classified as an ulterior extra-diegetic, heterodiegetic narrator. The first aspect defining the narrator is the relationship between narration and story, the time when the story is being narrated. The most frequent form is the narration of events after they happened, the ulterior narration, as in Bright and Morning Star. The use of the past tense is the most prominent indication of an ulterior narration.
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The second and third aspect defining the position of the narrator are the narrative level and participation relative to the events. The narrator in Bright and Morning Star shows no participation in the events other than narrating them from a level above the events. Rimmon-Kenan refers to this type of narration as extradiegetic heterodiegetic narration. The distance between narration and narrated events leaves the narrator with the opportunity of revealing as much or as little information about the events as desired. In Bright and Morning Star the narrator uses this distance to evoke a feeling of factual statement without further dominant commentary, except in the case of Ann-Sue. All descriptions made by the narrator are perceived through a certain angle, the perspective of Ann-Sue which will be thoroughly discussed in the next chapter. The narrator‘s choice when to describe and how to describe the events shows another emphasis that is put on the main character Ann-Sue.
In Bright and Morning Star the narrated events are viewed from the perspective of its main character Ann-Sue, functioning as a fixed internal focalizer. Fixed refers to the aspect that the internal focalizer is persistent through the whole story. Rimmon-Kenan defines internal focalization to happen from "inside the represented events" (Rimmon-Kenan, Narrative) and calls this form the character-focalizer. The first aspect defining an internal focalizer is the perceptual facet, or the degree to which perception is handled. In Bright and Morning Star space and time are perceived through the view of a limited observer, the character of Ann-Sue. The description of Ann-Sue‘s first meeting with Reva (page 182) is examplary.
Then, before she was aware of it, she was still, listening for sounds. Under the drone of rain she heard the slosh of feet in mud. Tha ain Johnny-Boy. She knew his long, heavy footsteps in a million. She heard feet come on the porch. Some woman. ... She heard bare knuckles knock three times, then once. Thas some of them comrades! She unbarred the door, cracked it a few inches, and flinched from the cold rush of damp wind.
The narrator does not provide us with the information who is coming to the door. The whole scene is perceived through Ann-Sue, her field of vision and her hearing are the only senses that are described. Rimmon-Kenan describes this aspect of limited space as`simultaneous´ focalization. No other space or time can be perceived than the limited perception of the internal focalizer allows.
The next aspect of focalization is the psychological facet, determined by "the cognitive and the emotive orientation of the focalizer towards the focalized" (Rimmon-Kenan, Narrative). In Bright and Morning Star all characters are focalized through Ann-Sue which leads to two different levels of pervasion of the focalized. Ann-Sue focalizes on herself from within, other characters are focalized from without. The narrator reveals Ann-Sue‘s knowledge, belief and her memory but also restricts the reader to outside perception of the beliefs of others. In chapter IV Booker convinces Ann-Sue that he is a comrade and she tells him the names of other comrades. One chapter later both Ann-Sue and the reader find out that this was a lie. No narrator comment described that Booker lied or that his beliefs were different from the perceived. This shows the limited cognitive orientation towards other characters than Ann-Sue, therefore towards a focalization from without. The focalization on Ann-Sue on the other hand is thoroughly from within. Every thought she has is narrated as is every memory evoked in her. In the first chapter the narrator describes Ann-Sue‘s memory of the days when her boys walked away from her belief (page 182). This limited perspective towards thoughts and memories of only one character emphazises this character‘s importance.
The emotional aspect of focalization in Bright and Morning Star is subjective, showing only the inner life of the main character Ann-Sue. The narrator grants the reader the privilege of the inner thoughts and emotions of Ann-Sue, her subjective perception of events. After Sug was arrested, Ann-Sue remembers her feelings: "That morning the bundle had become heavier than she could ever remember." (page 181) Ann-Sue is focalized from within by use of an interior monologue. This form of focalization is emphasized through the use of two linguistic features, the grammatical speech representation in free direct discourse and the strong ethnical coloring of Ann-Sue‘s thoughts. All characters speak with a strong dialect, represented by the narrator in direct speech but the narrator also reveals Ann-Sue‘s thoughts by the use of free direct discourse. In the first chapter of Bright and Morning Star Ann-Sue reminds herself to work with the words "Waal, Ah betta git to work" (page 179). Throughout the whole story Ann-Sue is the only character that is focalized with this degree of pervasion. Free direct discourse offers the possibility of representing interior monologue in the characters own words without summary. The usage of ethnical coloring and dialect in this discourse implies a higher level of enguinity of the narration. This strengthens the effect of identifying with the main character.
All the above mentioned aspects of focalization and narration are used to create a more genuine atmosphere, to make it easier on the reader to identify with the character. The topic of racial discrimination and violence against other beliefs is mediated through a very emotional and subjective focalization to stress the personal character of such actions. The personal involvement of the narration relates directly to the reader and is therefore an important analytical factor in the interpretation of the story.
Bal, Mieke, Narratology. Introduction to the Theory of Narrative, Toronto 1997
Martinez, Matias & Scheffel, Michael, Einführung in die Erzähltheorie, München 1999
Rimmon-Kenan, Shlomith, Narrative Fiction, Contemporary Poetics, London / New York 1983
Wright, Richard, Bright and Morning Star, 1939 taken from:
Updike, John & Kenison, Katrina, The Best American Short Stories of the Century, Boston