The purpose of this essay is to analyse and compare the narrative situations proposed by Franz Stanzel in the dystopian novels Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. For this aim, I am going to focus on the aspects focalization (reflection), relationship reader-narrator, narrative distance, knowledge, and reliability and demonstrate that they affect the interpretation of the novel by readers in a significant way. In the end, I will draw conclusions on how these techniques serve to alienate the narratives from their science fiction setting to set even more disconcerting issues about human’s existence.
To start with, in both novels the narrator is clearly a first person protagonist and coincides with the reflector. Their perspective (focalization) is internal since they exist in the fictional world they recreate. On the one hand, Kathy H. is a narrator who is identified by her name and age and that addresses the reader as a fellow “carer” from the very beginning: “My name is Kathy H. I'm thirty-one years old, and I've been a carer now for over eleven years.” (Ishiguro 5) This immediately involves the reader and creates intimacy between him and the narrator. On the other hand, The Handmaid’s Tale begins with a description of the setting told by a voice belonging to one of the healthy fertile women but the reader is not directly addressed. Moreover, we know the name of Atwood’s narrator in a conversation with Serena Joy rather late in the story but it is conventionally chosen according to her master’s name. We can infer that her identity has been stolen by the social regime in Gilead and have a premonition that the narrator is going to be one of the oppressed people. (Pei-ning Lee 3) In both cases we are being told the memories and experiences of unusual women- a clone and a breeder, which provokes uneasiness and doubt.
The effect achieved by using this particular narrative situation is that the narrators gain the reader’s sympathy easily because we tend to believe the person who experienced the events. It also creates intimacy between the narrator and the reader. Furthermore, Offred’s story is situated between two apparently reliable historical references aimed at increasing the reader’s belief. However, P. Murphy has studied this case in depth and has proved that “the book uses pseudo- documentary framing so as to reduce the dystopian distance between tenor and vehicle.” (25) In other words, Atwood has been able to foresee that the story told by Offred is good for a relaxing reading but is too far from our world, so before the last chapter “Historical Notes” we could have thought that was the end of the book and that Offred has either been saved by the two men or really punished for violating the law. Then, the narrator has changed and we are before a conference in which comes the “discomforting” part of the novel to introduce more doubt and anxiety about the world.
Similarly, Ishiguro placed Kathy’s...