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Developing Narrative Perspective,
This review is from: Watt (Picador Books) (Paperback)
In Watt the third person narration Beckett uses shares an uncomfortable relationship to the characters of the story. It is based either on anonymity or antagonism. This is different from the common intimate relation that the narrators of fiction share with the characters they tell us about. The result of Beckett's writing technique is that the reader can get no sense of a total picture or a comprehensive truth of the character's reality. The narrator is just as curious and confused by the nature of reality in the fictional world as the characters. In the first half of ¡®Watt¡¯ the narrator shows an estrangement from Watt equal to that which Watt shows toward himself. This is not the unreliable narrator of traditional fiction, but a narrator whose ignorance is a cause of the technique of telling which seeks to provide a total viewpoint of reality. The narrator of Watt, rather than assuming the position of a narrator who is a guide through the tale, functions as an unnecessary intermediary between the characters and their search for an understanding of reality. Who else but Watt can effectively relate the experience of his being? Consider Lawrence Harvey¡¯s point in his essay on Watt, "He [Watt] becomes a storyteller, but one who by this time is so convinced of the inadequacy of ordinary language that he feels compelled to invent verbal structures that are more closely related to his experience.¡± Watt himself is dissatisfied with the way the narrator is telling the story in the first half of the novel and so tells in his own unique mode of expression his story to Sam who acts as an interpreter. This points to a growing dissatisfaction with language as a way of telling in the text and debunks the impossible power of the third person narrator.
Sam, who writes in the first person of his relationship with Watt, narrates the second half of the novel. Because Sam's subjective view isn't constrained by the obligations of the supposed all-knowing omniscient narrator, he can more effectively convey that the experience of being is unknowable and unnamable. He admits to the inefficiency of his communication with Watt because it is burdened by the hindrance of their environment and their physical inadequacy. A first person narration is limited by its partial point of view of reality, but it is this limited viewpoint that Beckett seems to be trying to convey. For all of Sam's studious attention and examination of Watt, we are left just as baffled as to who he is as the characters observing Watt at the beginning of the novel, but at least it is a view more conscious of its subjectivity than the omniscient narrator could provide. In the first half of the novel we were given descriptions of the fallibility of logic and in the second half we are given a direct account of the ways in which each solution obtained only generates multiple objections. The first person narrative¡¯s direct account thus points to a conscious subjectivity that deletes the assumptions made in omniscient narration that this view of reality is a true representation of what it actually is. However, it becomes apparent in the narrative that the fallibility of reason reveals itself to be not limited to a complication caused by the point of view in telling, but in the nature of the written language used to tell. He develops this point well in his subsequent fiction, but Watt is a fascinating look at how these different narrative perspectives work and is a rich, comic novel to read.