On: Margaret Atwood's Surfacing Academic blogs:
Atwood's Surfacing
Coetzee's Disgrace
T. S. Eliot's Prufrock

     Narrative Structure

       Following from the discussion of Narrative Position comes the inseparable question of Narrative Structure, which proves a little elusive for first-time (or even fourth-time) readers of the novel. The term 'Structure' should simply mean the order in which the events of the story are relayed.
       You will doubtless have noticed that the book is split into three 'sections'. The first and third sections each contain eight chapters, and the middle section contains ten. So there is an initial symmetry to the structure of the novel, and this gives us a clue as to something deliberate going on.
       The action of the novel takes place over a ten day period - which you may not have been interested in before, but from now on you have to be. At the end of section One, we have witnessed events up to just before lunch on Day 3. Evans, who comes to pick them up, is sent away, because the group have decided to stay on. This is where section Two begins - but there is a complication here because, from this point onwards, the Narrative Position has been changed.
       In the discussion of Chapter Nine I point in more detail to the implications of this change. For the purpose of looking at techniques, it will be easiest just to take an overview:

Part One
Days 1-3: First person, present tense
Part Two
Days 3-6: First person, past tense
Part Three
Days 6-10: First person, present tense
This is a rough indication of how the story is told; in fact there is minor overlap at the end of the second Section, where it changes tense, and we realise that the Narrator has brought us up to the 'present' - she has narrated the events of the previous three days from her bed, where she is sitting at the end of Day 6.
       From here on, we return to the original style, but something has changed - her motives have shifted, following the discovery (first by her and then by strangers) of her drowned father. Briefly, then, the second section is related in the past tense to reverse the 'immediacy' effects of the first section; with such a painful experience to reconcile and possibly deny, the Narrator has imposed distance on the events. At the start of the third section the 'voice' of the Narrator seems more determined, possessed of a certain sense of direction. And she is, by and large, mad.
1. Introduction
       To the students
2. The Techniques
       Narrative Position
       Narrative Structure
       Parataxis as Metaphor
3. The Tensions
       [Spiritual] Journey
       Language as theme
       Garden vs. Wilderness
4. Chapter Discussions
       Chapter One
       Chapter Two
       Chapter Three
       Chapter Four
5. The Other Characters

6. Wider Reading
       Academic books

Copyright © Richard Cheadle, 2004-2006. All rights reserved.

Richard Cheadle, Hemsted House, Benenden School, Nr. Cranbrook, Kent. TN17 4AA.