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Analyzing Atonement Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1550 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Metafiction is a type of fiction in which the author self-consciously alludes to the artificiality or literariness of a work by parodying or departing from novelistic conventions and traditional narrative techniques. It is the literary term used to describe works of fiction that are concerned with the nature of fiction or the process of writing fiction in order to explore questions about the relationship between fiction and reality.

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Practitioners of metafiction strongly disagree with the concept that language should reflect a logical and impartial environment; instead, they argue that language is a complex, arbitrary system that can create its own forms and meanings. Their work takes a look at the relationship between this literary writing system and the outside world. The process of writing Metafiction presents a rather significant contradiction: to create a work of fiction and then strip away the fictional illusions.

Ian McEwan’s Atonement is arguably the only clear-cut metafictional novel on the course, although this could easily be down to the sheer enigmatic nature of metafiction itself. Atonement’s three main characters are Briony Tallis, a thirteen year old girl with aspirations for writing literature and scripts, her older sister Cecilia, and Robbie Turner, the son of one of the family’s workers. As with many of McEwan’s previous novels, the plot develops around a highly significant and pivotal moment in the characters’ lives. One day, Briony is trying to get her cousins to partake in the rehearsal of one of her recently completed plays, but unfortunately her cousins show little interest. Frustrated by their lack of concentration, Briony finds herself looking out the window at Robbie and Cecilia by the fountain in the garden. It appears to her that they are having some sort of argument, which turns out to be over the Meissen vase that had clumsily been broken, and some pieces had subsequently fallen into the fountain, resulting in Cecilia undressing down to her undergarments to retrieve the broken pieces from the bottom of the fountain.

At the dinner party taking place later that evening, Briony stumbles upon Robbie and Cecilia making love in the library, which she misinterprets due to a vulgar note Robbie had mistakenly given to her to deliver to Cecilia. During dinner, it is revealed to the guests that the twins had run off, and as such a search party was assembled. Whilst this party is out looking for the young boys, Lola, another one of Cecilia and Briony’s cousins, is sexually assaulted. Briony subsequently reveals the note that Robbie had given her, and without Robbie being present to defend himself, the blame is immediately shifted onto him. When Robbie finally returns with the twins, his expected hero’s welcome never arrives however, as the implications of his note lead everyone to interpret the situation slightly differently, which eventually leads to Robbie’s imprisonment.

The entire story of Atonement is focused on this drastic misinterpretation of events, and as such McEwan plays with the idea of each and every individual having a differing perspective of events. Despite the fact the three main sections of the book are written in the third person, which would, to some extent, suggest that what is being described is entirely objective and fact, the reader ends up relying on certain character’s interpretations of the events that occur. McEwan also cleverly includes small pieces of information that allow the reader to make their own conclusion over the true meanings of what is unfolding before them. The narrative throughout the book appears to be Briony exploring the possibilities and consequences of what has happened, even through the large passages of the story of which Briony was not present, primarily Robbie’s time spent in France during the war. Due to this, it is always difficult for the reader to form a definitive conclusion over what is fact and fiction: which is one of the key arguments as to why Atonement is such a pivotal piece of metafictional literature. Towards the end of the book, it is revealed that the novel is Briony’s attempt to let her past rest with this final act of atonement by clearing Robbie’s name of the crime of which she naively had him persecuted. Through this, McEwan explores the role of the novelist as much as the individual agent. He explores the huge complications of an adult’s world seen through the eyes of a child, and at the end of the book, raises the question of whether a fictional story in which Robbie and Cecilia eventually have the life they had taken from them, can truly be considered atonement.

Jeanette Winterson’s Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit has caused a considerable amount of confusion amongst readers, fans and critics alike due to her desire to represent what appears to be herself as a fictional character within the book. Winterson has always remained adamant that there is no such thing as autobiography, and as such has replied to such questions asking whether or not Oranges is an autobiographical account with ambiguous answers such as “No, not at all, and yes, of course”.

Winterson’s Buildungroman is a humourous ‘semi-biographical’ account of Jeanette’s childhood spent with her Mother and her draconian upbringing within the Pentecostal church. As Jeanette reaches adolescence, she eventually ends up falling in love with another female member of the congregation, which brings to light the stultifying confinement of her environment. Her narrative of a young woman’s sexual and intellectual growth in Northern England is in turn interlaced with fantastical quest narratives and re-written fairytales which break up, and at times intrude, the story about Jeanette. These allegorical tales that are interwoven with the main text supplement the notion of quest and growth, and provide a convenient paralleled universe for Winterson to use to facilitate the telling of a story that is at times and difficult and convoluted novel.

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In these fantastical stories, both of the protagonists, Winnet Stonejar (an anagram of Jeanette Winterson) and Perceval, are paradoxically guided and restrained by the thread that represents their past: “There are threads that help you find your way back, and there are threads that intend to bring you back. Mind turns to the pull, it’s hard to pull away” (155). The tug from these threads reminds the individual of the past and roots their present in a temporal relationship to it, and yet there is a sense that one can be freed from these binding cords, despite Jeanette’s eventual return home at the end of the book, which suggests that these threads have a stronger hold that one would think.

Jeanette’s alter ego, Winnet Stonejar, appears in some of the allegorical stories that intrude on Jeanette’s linear Bildungsroman and is tricked into becoming a sorcerer’s apprentice by entering into a circle that she does not have the power to leave. In the “Joshua” chapter of Oranges, the physical and mental restrictions on the growth of the individual are recognised through the ruined Forbidden City where it is necessary to chose earthly pleasure over the decaying weathered symbols of an archaic order. These walls gradually solidify the flesh, “it is the nature of stone to convert bone” (110). The symbol of the stone heart, given by the demon and the raven as they seek to guide the young women, emphasises the threat of the gradual petrifaction that awaits Jeanette and Winnet should they chose to remain within their protected and walled environments. The two women transcend these boundaries through their innocent belief in a love that is good and strong and which, being at odds with the implicit rules of their community, necessitates their ostracization and exile. The body as house of the soul is elevated, “[t]he body that contains a spirit is the one true god” (110). Belief in this enduring spirit exceeds the demarcations of the maze of walls and boundaries. Indeed, this appears to be an insistent paradigm in Winterson’s work: the recognition of the restrictive nature of boundaries which are then actively surpassed and contravened through the quest narrative, with passion or love acting as the motive force to succeed.

Through the use of metafictional writing both McEwan and Winterson allow the story to be told from multiple perspectives in order to adequately represent the way in which the character’s and to some extent, how they themselves are feeling. Metafiction is very similar in many ways to some of the unconventional forms of journalism that were prevalent in America throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s in how fact and fiction has been blended together to make a more engaging experience for the reader. The likes of Tom Wolfe writing ‘New Journalism’ and Hunter S. Thompson’s notorious ‘Gonzo Journalism’ are a testament to how toying with literary writing techniques can create a hybrid that is extremely popular amongst the literary world.


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