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Topic: Opening the Chinese-Box
Monica Manzolillo
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Opening the Chinese-Box
on: March 27, 2019, 09:24

Hello my dear students,

I have seen that not all of you have written in the previuos post but this is not a problem since all the discussions are always open so you can give your own contribution at any time.

This week we will move on approaching a series of issues related to the interpretation of "The Tale". In our initial brainstorming you have highlighted many of the principal themes of narration. Now I want you to focus on the peculiar structure of this short-story . Is this a chinese-box narration in your opinion and why?

Could you also identify the roles of narrator, narratee, ideal reader and real reader? If you are not sure about what these terms mean, just do a little research and then say who plays each role in the story. Alternatively, you can ask me and I will provide you with a couple of useful links.

It would also be interesting if some of you would like to focus on symbolism and say what natural elements in particular suggest (fog, mist, water). Is this a voyage in the mind, in the subconscious? Can this be considered as an allegorical journey?

Moreover, as we have said in our brainstorming, much in this tale remains unsaid or at least ambiguos. Do you think that the Captain's incapacity to decipher reality derives mainly from the atmospere of suspect generated by the war? Or rather, in his impossibility to recontruct events in a clear way there is a precise intention on the part of the modernint writer to comunicate to the reader the idea that there are no longer strong certainties as in Victorian times for example?


Wow, these are all big issues to be considered. For this reason you don't have to explore all of them. Just give your opinion on what triggers you most and hopefully we will have a complete vision from what all of you will say. Any opinion is welcome, any interpretation is preciuos for us beacuse it widens our horizons!

So, please, read again"The Tale" with these questions in mind and then say what you think about it.

🂠🂠ðŸ‚


GerrySalvati
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Re: Opening the Chinese-Box
on: March 27, 2019, 14:48



Here an image of a Chinese box model.

As you can see, communication is possible between:

(1) author and reader on the level of nonfictional communication,

(2) narrator and narratee on the level of fictional

mediation,

(3) characters on the level of action.


Sara Pallante
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Re: Opening the Chinese-Box
on: March 30, 2019, 09:39

In my opinion the short story is characterised by a Chinese-box narration.


First of all we find a third-person narration at the beginning that presents us, on the action level, a scene in which another character, the man, becomes in turn a narrator because he tells a tale to the woman, and, in this way, she becomes his narratee.


The role of the man as a narrator is emphasised by the words of the woman "You used to tell – your – your simple and – and professional – tales very well at one time. Or well enough to interest me. You had a – sort of art – in the days – the days before the war".


Moreover this statement probably contains another hint that made me reflect and think about the modernist writing.


We know, in fact, that before the war the tales of the man were "simple and professional", in other words, the opposite of the one he tells the woman now, during the war. As a matter of fact, he can be considered a non-reliable narrator-character because his story is full of gaps, ambiguity, uncertainty about what is real and what is not, that are typical features of the modernist writing.


So his shift from the "simple and professional tales", before the war, to the sort of tale he tells now can be a reference to how the war, with its horror and distrust, contributed to shape a new way of writing based on a new conception of reality.


It is also interesting to notice that there's another "tale" in this text that contributes to make its structure even more complex, because it's a story within a story within a story. This is, of course, the one that the Northman tells the Commanding Officer.


It is, in fact, striking that Conrad decides to use the word "tale" also in this case, as if he wanted to highlight the intricacy of his short story's structure. In addition, the tale of the Northman doesn't seem linear at all, or at least it is not perceived like that by the Commanding Officer.


So in conclusion, there's a third-person narration that presents us a frame story in which the characters become in turn narrators and narratees, we are the real readers whose thoughts and interpretations Conrad couldn't predict and the ideal reader is the one who can possibly understand all the subtleties and references meant by Conrad in this text.


Monica Manzolillo
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Re: Opening the Chinese-Box
on: March 30, 2019, 11:04

Very good Sara and thank you so much for your comments ! What else can we add to what Sara has written? Is there anyone who wishes to focus on symbolism and allegory? Just think about "Heart of Darkness" if you have read this novel or watched the spectacular film version "Apocalypse Now" with Marlon Brando. 😉 😀


Michela Cinotti
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Re: Opening the Chinese-Box
on: March 30, 2019, 15:22

In my opinion it is a chinese-box narration.

It is clearly a multi-layered narration: on the first level we meet the Captain who is asked to tell a tale; on the second level we enter the Tale of the Commanding Officer and the Northman while on the third level another tale is told by the Northman to the Commanding officer.

Each level of narration has a different narrator and narratee.

A third person (and I would say also limited ) narrator recounts the tale of the Captain and his lover/psychiatrist and we are the narratee (It is so in the first and last part of the story); Then on the second level the narrator becomes the Captain and the woman the narratee and on the third level the narrator is the Northman and the narratee is the Commanding Officer.

The conclusion of the story makes it clearer ,in my opinion, that the request of the woman of telling a story is part of a therapy to make the Captain overcome his trauma. Conrad tells us indeed ‚Ë He abandoned all pretence’. At the beginning she asks him to tell a story of ‚Ëanother world’and asks him to enter it. It is like the earth and it is the only world possible on which to tell a story; indeed he states ‚Ëwhat else could you expect from sending a man made of our common, tormented clay on a voyage of discovery?’. He goes on an interior journey.

So the many levels of narration are an allegorical journey in his subconscious: the deeper you go, the more unclear the story becomes. And the fog and the mist are a symbol of this difficulty of overcoming his trauma.

This structure made me also think about the analogy of the Iceberg used by Freud to describe the three levels of consciounsness. And so the three tales could correspond to the three levels of the mind: conscious, preconscious and unconscious.

The first world war deeply scarred who was involved in it. Every certainty collapsed, nobody could be really trusted and modernist writers convey this fragmentation of the individual in their works. The short story depicts this consequences of the war on the psyche and on the vision of the world that is no more univocal.


Virginia Vicidomini
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Re: Opening the Chinese-Box
on: March 30, 2019, 18:46

Hi everyone,


I agree with what Sara and Michela said in their comments. I think that the text is characterised by a Chinese-box narration and this frame narrative is useful to give different perspectives and as Michela noticed, in The tale we have a Chinese box with three layers. This literary technique leads readers from the main story, where the author Conrad is the narrator of the story of this couple and the readers are the narratee, to the second level, where the man is the narrator and the woman the narratee, and finally to the third box, where the Northman is the narrator and the commanding officer is the narratee.


Regarding the symbolism, I think that the fog is an interesting element, it could represent the feeling of guilty of the commanding officer, or his anguished soul because he caused the death of the Northman or the fog could symbolize the impossibility to be sure about something because the Northman did not know where he was and which way he should take while the commanding officer was not sure if the Northman was guilty of something. For these reasons, maybe the fog represents a filter that hides the truth.


Lucia Rosa Attianese
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Re: Opening the Chinese-Box
on: March 31, 2019, 16:15

I agree with what my colleagues said about the Chinese-box narration. I think that the presence of three levels of narration may represent the writers intention to make his work more ambiguous and difficult to understand. As far as the use of symbolism is concerned, three elements in the tale may have a simbolic meaning, that is sea, fog and mist. All of them may have something to do with a sort of voyage in the characters subconscious, because they deal with his inner struggle and his continuous research of the truth. The sea is said to be a sort of hypochrite friend because it appears neither hostile nor friendly, it just conveys a sense of neutrality or indifference. Indeed it seems that it has nothing to do with what is going on, because it does not allow the character to feel the brutality and primitive passion of the war. Only the soldiers who fight and live the war can feel it. Such a situation really annoys the officer, as the narrator says. It is only during the night that he can think about this place where one can just choose between death and truth: this is his only relief. Actually there is a sort of contradictory element that strikes me. The officer envies those soldiers who fight every day risking their lives for the country, but in the end he is obsessed with the fact that he wont ever know if he murdered innocent or guilty men. Where is the sense of primitive passion he liked so much? Maybe he wants to convince himself that the right thing to do is fighting for the good of the country, no matter if this means to die or to commit atrocities: this appears to be the truth during these years. However the narrator/officer realizes that the truth is not something that can be easily known. The sea may represent this reality in which everything cannot be taken for granted: it blinds the character because it does not allow him to realize the truth or what is thought to be so. Indeed, the sea will be also defined unreadable by the narrator. With regard to the other two simbolic elements, we are told that mist is deceitful, maybe because it not only hides something (the truth from a methaphorical point of view) but it also encourages people to see what is hidden even though it is almost impossible: It seems that you ought to see. For this reason it is said that the dead luminosity of the fog is irritating. Then, the impossibility of finding the truth is something that torments the officer. So, we could say that the simbolism used in this short story is related to the characters state of mind, that is to say to his inner struggle caused by a sense of insecurity. Moreover, I think that the officers incapacity to decipher the truth may be related to the writers intention to convey the relativeness of the age in which he lives.


Monica Manzolillo
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Re: Opening the Chinese-Box
on: March 31, 2019, 18:01

Thank you so much Lucia Rosa for expanding on symbology. You know, while reading this tale for the first time it really seemed to me to be captured into another dymension. A sort of allegorical world in which things did not mean for themselves but for what they were a symbol of.

Many thanks also to Virginia and Michela for their contribution on clarifying the narrative structure of this short-story. Just be careful not to confuse author and narrator. The author is the physical person that writes the story while the narrator is a fictional character, created by the author, who narrates events.

You have correctly identified a 3rd person narration. But what kind of 3rd person narrator is this? Omniscient/non-omniscient? Intrusive/non-intrusive? Reliable or unreliable?

Let's try to say more about that!


Mariagrazia Poppiti
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Re: Opening the Chinese-Box
on: March 31, 2019, 20:45

I completely agree with Sara and Michela that the narrative technique looks like a sequence of Chinese-boxes one inside the other. This is a characteristic use of what has been defined the oblique narrative in which the inner narrative is told by a fictional narrator we first meet in the outer narrative. The outer narrative can be considered as a frame enclosing a picture while the inner narrative is the picture itself, that is the actual story. Consequently the viewpoint is no longer that of an single omniscient narrator because the story is presented from several viewpoints. Also the narrative technique used in "Heart of Darkness", is one of a story within a story. The primary narrator is Marlow then there is a second narrator, unnamed, who tells us about Marlow telling his story. There is also a third voice added to this narration which can be considered the author himself, who is really telling the whole story.


Another interesting point is the use of symbolism. In Conrad the sea is often present as a natural element but at the same time as symbol of the thoughts and emotions of men. The presence of fog at sea as well as the darkness outside and inside the room evoke the subconscious, a world of ambiguity, different from the world of light which symbolize consciousness. Fog may symbolize the difficulty to find the real truth, in fact all the characters are fog-bound and full of doubts.


AgataBartniak
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Re: Opening the Chinese-Box
on: March 31, 2019, 21:57

In my opinion, the 3rd person narrator is omniscient. He or she starts the Tale by giving a description of an environment, characters (woman and man) and what they are doing. He or she gives information about man's feelings and behavior: " He was beginning to feel grateful to her for that something final in her tone which had eased the strain.". The 3rd person narrator knows about details such as darkness which hid man's surprise and later smile. The Narrator is rather reliable, he is giving reader true information, precisely describing a situation and feelings of characters. He or she does not seem to lie or trick a reader or even playing with by asking rhetorical questions. Although I would he or she might be intrusive because He or she is describing them in such way as for example the woman "the hint of a loved woman's capricious will, which is capricious only because it feels itself to to be a law", he or she describes woman's will feel to be a law.


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