The self-reflective nature of Paul Auster’s "Ghosts"

Hausarbeit, 2009

4 Seiten, Note: 1,7




This paper deals with the self-reflective nature of Paul Auster’s Ghosts[1]. Firstly, examples will be stated how the text alludes to its own fictional nature. Moreover, it will be shown how the reader has to read between the lines in order to obtain the novel’s deeper meaning.

Fiction or Fact?

When people read novels they tend to expect the narrator to state reliable facts. This makes them feel the story to be real or non-fictional. The author usually wants his story to appear real, so that the reader may easily be able to identify with the characters and the fictional world. Authors often succeed in making their story seem real by setting their story in time and place of the real world.[2] But in Ghosts, the author seems to make up the setting of the story at random, making clear that he is telling a story, and thus seems rather unreliable. But in contrast, he supports his position with historical facts:

The address is unimportant. But let’s say Brooklyn Heights, for the sake of argument. Some quiet, rarely travelled street not far from the bridge – Orange Street perhaps. Walt Whitman handset the first edition of Leaves of Grass on this street in 1855, and it was here that Henry Ward Beecher railed against slavery from the pulpit of his red-brick church. So much for local colour. (NYT 138-139)

The author seems to play with the reader by confusing him whether the information he gives is fictional or real and in this way reminds the reader of the story’s fictional nature.

The Creating and Closing of Gaps

Every time the author gives information to the reader, he closes and creates gaps at the same time. “[N]arrative is an art of the opening and closing of gaps, and […] in those gaps lie whole worlds that the art of narrative invites us either to actualize or leave as possibilities.”[3] The reader is asked to speculate on these gaps and to fill them using his own imagination and experience. Actually, this is what the main character Blue does, when he speaks of detective work. The solving of detective cases may be seen as equivalent to the closing of gaps. Therefore, the reader can easily identify with Blue, since both have the same intention to find out how the story may go on and how the case may be solved. The “story […] always proceeds forward in time”[4] and neither Blue, as a story world character, nor the reader know what will happen on the next pages. The fact that all action has already been composed by Paul Auster at the time we read the text is shown right at the beginning of the narration:

Little does Blue know, of course, that the case will go on for years. But the present is no less dark than the past, and its mystery is equal to anything the future might hold. Such is the way of the world: one step at a time, one word and then the next. (NYT 138)


[1] Paul Auster, The New York Trilogy: Ghosts (London: Faber and Faber, 1999). All parenthetical references follow this edition (NYT).

[2] Christoph Bode, Der Roman (Tübingen: Francke, 2005) 44-45.

[3] H. Porter Abbott, “Story, Plot, and Narration”, ed. David Herman, The Cambridge Companion to Narrative (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2007) 50.

[4] Abbott 41.

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The self-reflective nature of Paul Auster’s "Ghosts"
Christian-Albrechts-Universität Kiel
ISBN (eBook)
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paul, auster’s, ghosts
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Anonym, 2009, The self-reflective nature of Paul Auster’s "Ghosts", München, GRIN Verlag,


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