lunes, 2 de noviembre de 2009


A question to the Narrative-L on represented discourse, and my answer:

*Dear All,*
I have a rather basic question that comes from reading the Narrative website. I was looking at free indirect discourse and found this passage as an example:

Gabriel could not listen while Mary Jane was playing her Academy piece, full of runs and difficult passages, to the hushed drawing room. He liked music but the piece she was playing had no melody for him and he doubted whether it had any melody for the other listeners, though they had begged Mary Jane to play something."
-James Joyce, "The Dead"

At first I thought that I couldn't distinguish this from indirect discourse, (I looked at the example on the website for that and indeed they seemed comparable to me) because in this passage I take the narrator to be simply describing the effect of the music on Gabriel. Then, upon further reflection, I thought perhaps its "indirectness" comes from the feeling that Gabriel himself is reflecting in these terms, suggested by the word "doubted," which shows thought. I now take it that he is thinking to himself at this moment "I like music, but this has no melody and I doubt whether it has any melody for the other listeners either." Am I right about this? If at this exact moment in time, Gabriel were listening to the music, but thinking "I'm rather hungry" while the narrator was telling us that the music is making no impact on Gabriel because of its runs and difficult passages, that would simply be the narrator's indirect discourse about Gabriel. I just want to make sure that I'm right in thinking the key to the indirectness of this passage rests on "doubted."
Heather Morton
Centre College

Dear Heather,
Yes, I think you describe accurately the way the passage might almost be read as the narrator's reflection, but with the reflection attributed to Gabriel thanks to that verb of thought, which makes it clear he's consciously reflecting about his perception, and that this reflection is "indirectly" conveyed through the narrator's discourse. However, I think the passage would be more accurately described as "free indirect thought", since it is clear that Gabriel isn't uttering anything: he doesn't say the music has no melody, etc. —f.i.d. is about utterances, and free indirect thought is about perceptions, feelings, thoughts... although in some cases, not here really, there can be ambiguity or common ground (given that we think in part in words). As Dorrit Cohn and others made it clear, there can be free indirect / free direct / indirect or direct thoughts, or free indirect / free direct / indirect / direct discourse.

Jose Angel García Landa

James Phelan's answer is also of interest:


At the risk of having your straightforward question--and the helpful responses from Jose and Ward--tip over into debates about the passage or the concept of focalization, here are a few more thoughts.

1. While the verb "doubted" does cue us into Gabriel's thought, the earlier verb "listened," though followed by "not," can be read as already functioning to cue us into Gabriel's consciousness. This cuing is reinforced by "liked," as Ward suggests, and that second sentence implies that the "not" that follows "listened" is less than an absolute negation: Gabriel listened enough to decide that the piece had "no melody for him." Consequently, it's plausible to read the phrase "full of runs and difficult passages" as part of his thought: he is as much (or perhaps even more) the agent of this description/judgment as the narrator.

2. The final clause of the second sentence offers a nice example of how indirection can extend "down" a level: that is, the blend of the narrator's and Gabriel's voices subsumes a blend of Gabriel's and the other characters' voices. In other words, Gabriel's thought indirectly represents what the others said--"play something" is plausibly part of the others' speech (as in "Mary Jane, please play something for us")--with "begged" as the equivocating word between his thought and their speech (did they say, "Mary Jane, please play something for us. We beg you"? or is he translating "please" or "please, please, please" into "begged"? We can't answer with any confidence, a situation common with free indirect techniques).

3. It's worth remembering that in the first sentence of the story, "Lily the caretaker's daughter was literally run off her feet," Joyce signifies indirection with the adverb rather than with a verb of speaking, thinking, feeling, or perceiving. In other words, while such verbs are excellent cues to indirection, they are not the only possible ones. 

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