A creative and critical reflection on the impact of using the narrative voice of the second-person.
“You think it will never happen to you, that it cannot happen to you, that you are the only person in the world to whom none of these things will ever happen, and then, one by one, they all begin to happen to you, in the same way they happen to everyone else” (Auster, 2012, p.1).
My thesis explores the nature of the second-person narrative in fiction through exposition and critical reflection. It will take the form of a 60-80,000-word novel that will attempt to use a second-person narration to provoke questions about the relationship between the text and its narrators, characters, author and readers. This will be accompanied by a critical piece that seeks to offer new perspectives on space, ambiguity and dislocation that are inherent in the second-person narrative voice.
I argue that our understanding of a text is primarily informed by its voice, and by the character, trustworthiness and objectivity (or not) of the narrative figure. As a result, the relationships between teller and listener, author and reader, narrator and narratee are all bound by notions of power and property. Questions such as whose story is told? or to whom does it belong? adhere to all narrative texts. However, as critics such as Monika Fludernik, Irene Kacandes, Uri Margolin, Brian Richardson and others have identified, a shift to the second-person can act more easily to unseat the autonomous subject, “fostering multiplicity, the interrogation and dissolution of certainty” (Schofield, 2003). Though some narrators will be powerless to change the course of events in a story, or even impact directly on the characters within it, they nevertheless have the power to change the other – the narratee – in ways that are potentially radical.
Through the voice of the second-person, distinctions of identity, name and pronoun between narrator, author and reader become irreconcilably entwined. The pronoun you hovers ambivalently between self-reference to the author/narrator and external reference to the narratee/reader and the second-person protagonist, concealing all signs of gender, character and reliability. You are formed by another’s words.
It is rare in fiction for narrators to tell narratees their own stories. The voice of the novel is generally heard in the first or third person; you are reading my story (or at least the story that is told as though by me), or else you are to discover her or his fate. But the use of second-person narration implies that you must discover your story from another. My thesis explores this phenomenon asking how reading ‘your’ story effects readers’ participation in it and in the world of fiction. What can we know of the identity of the ‘you’, and of the teller? Whom does the narrative engage or exclude?
I work in the School of Education, having taught in schools for some years. Alongside my professional career, I have developed a portfolio of writing (including two novels (A Moment’s Surrender and The Dead Leave No Addresses), short stories, educational conference papers) and in 2013 I completed an MA in Creative Writing and Critical Theory at the University of Sussex.