Point of View: “Beyond the Bayou“, “La Belle Zoraide“, “The Lilies“, “The Lilacs“, and “Dead Men’s Shoes” by Kate Chopin/ “Point of View” chapter, The Art of Fiction by David Lodge
[This analysis provides you with a model for your own writing as you complete the assignments related to the short stories for each author.
The document you send should begin with your chosen focus aspect as your title and your name (first only, please!) as the author of the analysis. If you prefer not to have your name appear at all, you may leave it out.
Please also respond to the post here below and at least one other post to get full credit for the assignment. Statements in bold font are points made by Lodge.]
Analysis of Narrative Technique in the above stories by Kate Chopin
as related to the “Point of View” chapter from David Lodge’s The Art of Fiction
In his chapter on point of view, David Lodge states that “The choice of the point(s) of view from which the story is told is arguably the most important single decision that the novelist has to make, for it fundamentally affects the way readers will respond, emotionally and morally, to the fictional characters and their actions” (26). In using a third-person point of view in these stories, Chopin initially gives the reader a sense of objectivity and distance. Yet the intense detail and description of the physical surroundings and the the use of French and patois in the stories immerse the reader in the story and, at the same time, emphasize the role of the narrator as the bridge between the reader and the world of the story. In relying on the reader’s own knowledge of the historical background of the post-Civil War South, Chopin allows the narrator to tell simple, fable-like stories on the surface that, for the adult reader, take on dark undertones. In that way, Chopin invites the reader’s judgment and then demands that it be withheld. For example, in “La Belle Zoraide,” the frame narrative structure removes the actual story several degrees from the reader, even as it is clearly described as “true”. The reader is presented with the racial details of the storyteller and the listener in stark enough language so as to make the reader wonder at their relationship. Madame Delisle’s comment on the story at the end is clearly insensitive at the least, and yet the outside narrator emphasizes that the reader doesn’t even understand the language in which the story was told and the comment was made. What is implied here is that, although foreign and morally confusing to the reader, the characters, their relationships, and their words cannot be judged by those outside the cultural, regional milieu in which these characters exist. The physical beauty of the characters and the sensory beauty of the language they speak are mixed with the morally bewildering nature of their interactions and history.
Telling the story from a particular perspective not only serves to further thematic development, but also helps to capture and hold the reader’s interest. The point of view chosen by an author works in tandem with the language choices (diction) and sentence structure (syntax) to establish tone, mood, and/or atmosphere, as well as drive character and thematic development.
Throughout the stories, the reader is drawn into Creole culture through the use of French and patois and through the discrepancy between the language of narration and that of dialogue. The narration is sophisticated and elegant, whereas the dialogue reveals a character’s cultural and (often) racial identity quite clearly. The frequent use of nicknames for the characters also contributes to the sense of place for the setting and implies a limited, biased third-person narrator who is acting as a bridge between the world of the story and that of the reader.
In providing a clearly limited point of view on the story, authors rely on readers’ knowledge and experience to create effects such as irony and pathos.
The point of view in the stories presents the plot as the most superficial layer of the story, with the deeper levels of meaning being developed through the depiction of the setting. Both irony and pathos are created because Chopin has relied on the fact that most readers are unfamiliar with Creole culture, but do know about race relations in the Deep South before and after the Civil War.
The choice of point of view may add layers of meaning to figurative language such as similes, because it determines the actual significance of comparisons and associations.
The point of view of a limited third-person narrator allows the seeming objectivity of an outsider to be combined with the intimacy of an insider, as languages are mixed and characters’ backgrounds are related and their innermost thoughts and emotions explained. The reader is drawn in by the intimacy, but just enough details are related to bring the reader to the realization that, for example, the enchanting beauty of the physical surroundings, the characters, and their language stands in stark contrast to the moral ugliness of the cultural and social history in which they are ensconced.
Most authors maintain consistency in the point of view throughout their novels in order to avoid disturbing the reader’s “production” of meaning as they progress through the work as a whole. Authors who choose to shift the point of view within a work usually do so according to some “aesthetic plan or principle” (28) that the reader can understand and use in understanding the text and its themes.
These stories are very short, yet evoke multiple layers of meaning through the use of the limited, third-person point of view that Lodge describes as “indirect free style”.