Reading Father and I by Par Lagerkvist with Narrative and Culture Repetition One of the claims that J. Hillis Miller make in his essay Narrative, has to do with repetition and its relationship with enjoyment. Miller points out “We enjoy imitation. For one thing imitations are rhythmic, orderly and it is natural for us to take pleasure in rhythmic forms. ” In answering the question, why we need the ‘same’ story over and over again, Miller adds “The repetition of a rhythmic pattern is intrinsically pleasurable, whatever the pattern is. The repetitions within the pattern are pleasurable themselves. From his claim, I can deduce that repetition is something that readers look for in a story. Come to think of it, it might be one of the driving forces that allow the reader to take interest. It is one primary consideration that writers need to take in making a story.
In the fiction story, Father and I, by Par Lagerkvist, I find that the author not only uses repetition not only for enjoyment but also for the development of the story. Repetition is found in the rhetorical devices that he uses to develop his sentences. For one, he utilizes parallelism in his statements. There was noise and movement everywhere; bumblebees came out of their holes, midges swarmed wherever it was marshy, and birds darted out of the bushes to catch them and back again as quickly. ” Another, he uses repetitive words in order to gain more impact in a sentence. “Nothing was right, nothing was real; it was all so weird. ” The genius of Lagerkvist comes out in the repetition of events and elements in the plot and making them contradictory. The story repeats events and elements and creates a contrast of imagery depending on the time.
The summary of events follow: the father and child go out, enter the woods, see animals and telegraph poles, encounter a train, and arrive at their destination. At day time, the woods are full of life and movement. Animals and telegraph poles sing. The train is a friendly passerby that greets the father and child. Their destination brings remembrance of the childhood of the father. But at night time, the woods change. Animals stare. Poles rumble like talking deep down from the earth. A train passes unexpectedly. They proceed to their destination with the child traumatized by the experience.
In doing this, the author accomplishes his goal of creating crisis in the main character (child), bringing him from a situation of certainty and control to a situation of anguish and vulnerability. The skilful repetition of events allows me to read the story and follow the movement easily. The contradiction in the presentation of the events gives a two-sides-of-a-coin effect on the symbols employed by the story. The train, for example, isn’t just a symbol of the father’s ability to control but it also a symbol of his inability to foresee future danger. Performative Function Miller extensively discusses the functions of fiction in his essay.
One of these functions that he writes about is the function that speech-act theorists call ‘performative function’. He writes, “A story has a way of doing things with words. It makes something happen in the real world: for example, it can propose modes of selfhood or ways of behaving that are then imitated in the real world. ” Taking his statement and applying it to the story, I sense that Father and I proposes to the real world a stage of common experience and defines this experience. It pays close attention to the coming of age of a child; when the child grows from childhood to adulthood.
This story describes how this coming-of-age can be like. The child begins to realize that he feels differently from his father. “It was so strange that only I was afraid, not Father, that we didn’t think the same. ” The divide develops further when the child sees that the father (a railroad worker) didn’t recognize the train driver, “Father didn’t recognize him, didn’t know who he was. ” He realizes that his father was powerless. “…The unknown, all that Father knew nothing about, that he wouldn’t be able to protect me against. ” The story ‘performs’ by describing the processes that the child underwent.
It defines how the child underwent the process of individuation. The child realizes that he is different from his father; his father no longer understands what he is going through. The child now is on his own; he begins understands what it is to be an individual. Further, the child becomes aware that there are things his father could not protect him from. He has to proceed on his own. He has to stand face the world that has its own darkness. In a rather stark manner, the author allows us to gain insight into the coming-of-age. This experience is an experience of cutting-off; this can be rather painful and lonely.
He shows that this is an experience of independence; it will be a life for the person and not for anyone else. It is an experience of uncertainty; not everything will be in control. The world no longer revolves for the convenience of the person. “It just hurtled, blazing, into the darkness that had no end. ” Culture Builders Greenblatt and Miller agree that stories are reflectors and builders of culture. Miller writes “Fiction […] accurate reflectors of a culture and […] are the makers of that culture and as the unostentatious, but therefore all the more effective policemen of that culture. Greenblatt adds to this by looking at culture as a movement of constraint and mobility. It has the movement of constraint: has a set of limits within which individuals must be contained. It has the movement of mobility: the regulator and guarantor of movement. We find these dynamics in the story as well. We can that the story reflects (moves as constraint) the culture of that time. We need to contextualize this first by looking at the background of the author. Par Lagerkvist lived from 1891 to 1974. He is a son of station master Anders Johan Lagerkvist and Johanna Blad, was born in the south of Sweden.
Seeing this, I surmise that the story might come from a personal experience and reflects the culture of his time. In the story, we sense the qualities expected of the males in their culture. They were “sound and sensible people”. They “didn’t make much fuss about things. ” They stay calm and not think of anything even in difficult situations. The story reflects the image of males as composed; even stoic and unfeeling. The story not only reflects these qualities but also challenges them. It tries to build culture brings about the movement of mobility.
The child asks if the Father really does not feel fear. “I couldn’t understand how he could be so calm when it was so murky”. The story questions this breezy calm and asks for greater transparency. The story also brings to attention how the father is unconnected to feeling and how he could no longer relate to the experience of the child. The story questions that sense of security and certainty that are expected or found of in men of their culture. It challenges this culture to face the world even with one’s insecurity and vulnerability.
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