Analysing narrative voice in an extract

Notes asking questions on narrative voice when analysing an extract pinned on a noticeboard being looked at by young man.

Example

This extract is the opening of D.H Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. What is the effect of the narrative voice in this extract?

Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically. The cataclysm has happened, we are among the ruins, we start to build up new little habitats, to have new little hopes. It is rather hard work: there is now no smooth road into the future: but we go round, or scramble over the obstacles. We’ve got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen.

This was more or less Constance Chatterley’s position. The war has brought the roof down over her head. And she had realized that one must live and learn.

She married Clifford Chatterley in 1917, when he was home for a month on leave. They had a month’s honeymoon. Then he went back to Flanders: to be shipped over to England again six months later, more or less in bits. Constance, his wife, was then twenty-three years old, and he was twenty-nine.

His hold on life was marvellous. He didn’t die, and the bits seemed to grow together again. For two years he remained in the doctor’s hands. Then he was pronounced a cure, and could return to life again, with the lower half of his body, from the hips down, paralysed for ever.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover, D.H Lawrence

Analysis

  • This extract is written in the third person.
  • The use of the third person voice allows the writer to share direct information about the setting and characters.
  • The narrative voice has an educated, formal tone. The reference to a ‘tragic age’ also gives the opening a wide reaching, philosophical tone.
  • The narrator uses the present tense to establish the historical setting of the novel: the time of World War One.
  • The reader is acknowledged and included by the narrator - “Ours is…we are…we start…we’ve got to…” These references also establish a link between the voice telling the story and the characters in the story – they both share the same context.
  • A modern reader may find the formality of the personal pronouns – “…one must live…” makes them feel less connected to the narrative voice.
  • The narrative voice uses detached, matter of fact language – for example the use of the word ‘habitats’ when referring to people, makes the narrator appear as a detached observer.
  • The use of numbers also makes the narrative more objective - “1917..a month..six months later…twenty-three..twenty-nine.”
  • This matter of fact tone contrasts with the informality of the phrases ‘shipped over…more or less in bits…” The use of complex nouns like ‘cataclysm’ contrast with informal verbs like ‘scramble’.
  • The second paragraph seems to offer an insight into the character of Constance – her feelings and perspective - “..she had realized that one must live and learn.”
  • In places the third person narrative seems to be coloured by her perspective - “His hold on life was marvellous.”
  • The emotive subject matter is undercut by the detached narrative voice, so that the tone is not sentimental or tragic. This reflects the overall tone of the opening paragraph - “…we refuse to take it tragically.”
  • The narrator layers several linked metaphors - “…among the ruins…build up new little habitats…no smooth road into the future…skies have fallen…” These geographical images give the narrator’s philosophical musings a more direct, physical impact.
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