Penelope Lively's "Moon Tiger". Levels of narrative

Term Paper, 2013
7 Pages, Grade: 1,8


1. Introduction

In Penelope Lively’s Novel Moon Tiger, that has won the Booker prize in 1987 (Wikipedia), Claudia Hampton, a historian dying from cancer, lies in a hospital, remembering various moments of her life. She is “writing a history of the world and, in the process, [her] own” (Lively …). These memories are given form by different levels of narration within the novel, creating the remarkable diversity of reading impressions. These levels of narrative are characterising Claudia’s way of telling stories. She claims to tell her story in a liberal way, meaning that she lets others speak, too. However, within the novel there are hints to find that she often acts differently. Although Claudia presents herself as a storyteller who lets others voices speak to, she dominates the narrative in an almost egocentric way. This thesis will be dealt with in the following, considering not only the interpretative but also the analytical aspects of the novel, analysed according to the theories of Gérard Genette and, where useful, to Stanzel’s (Meyer 69-87).

2. Analysis

The novel is build up from several different levels of narrative, each consisting of specific focalisations. The different levels of narrative are the hospital episodes, Claudia’s interior monologue, the flashbacks and Tom’s diary. These levels of narrative have specific functions within the novel, and show different aspects of Claudia, as main character of the novel, and other characters.

The hospital episodes give the overall situation of the novel: Claudia lies in the hospital, remembering her life while visitors, nurses and doctors come and go, talk about her and with her. These episodes are considered to be the extradiegetic level of narration. They take place as the outermost part of the novel, containing the others as they take place mostly in Claudia’s head while she lies in the hospital. The narrator in these part is heterodiegetic and covert as he is neither visible nor an actual part of the story. The focalisations are variable, for these episodes are told from the views of several different people, like Sylvia’s, Lisa’s or the nurse’s view.

The next intradiegetic level of narrative within the hospital episodes is Claudia’s interior monologue. It consists of Claudia’s thoughts onto her life and the people she knew, and the flashbacks and, in a way, Tom’s diary, which are the innermost levels of narrative within the novel. Claudia’s interior monologue is told by herself. She is the narrator on this level of narrative, therefore homodiegetic and overt. The focalisation is internal and fixed, for only Claudia acts as center of focalisation on this level of narrative.

The level of the flashbacks is part of Claudia’s interior monologue. This level consists of several scenes of Claudia’s life, playing inside her head. In these scenes the other characters speak and act as if they we’re doing it themselves, but still it is only Claudia’s subjective memory forming the scenes. These intradiegetic flashbacks are told by an heterogetic narrator who is also covert. The narrative situation is almost the same as it is in the hospital episodes, only that the focalisations in this part are completely internal, while in the hospital episodes they sometimes happen to be external. According to Stanzel the flashbacks each show a figural narrative situation, each with different reflectors, as in some Claudia is the reflector, in others it is Gordon or Jasper.

Tom’s diary however is more difficult to classify. It is given inside of Claudia’s interior monologue, but, since she has not written nor had influenced it subjectively, it is not quite part of it. It is part of the intradiegetic level of narrative, but differently from the flashback episodes its narrator is not heterodiegetic. It is homodiegetic and overt, Tom himself is the narrator, and thus his diary is internally focalised. It is in a way not inferior to Claudia’s interior monologue but coordinate.

These different levels of narrative are necessary to clarify if Claudia is in fact dominating the narrative in such an egocentric way as mentioned above. In the following interpreting part this question will be dealt with.

3. Interpretation

Claudia Hampton refers to herself as a storyteller who lets other voices speak, too. However, in the novel there is evidence that she is not quite as liberal as she claims to be.

She lets other voices speak to, as one can see in the flashback episodes. However, she does not give the exact wording of other characters, she influences them, consciously or unconsciously, subjectively by remembering them, whereat she adds words, changes wordings or leaves out phrases other characters have said. This happens for example when she is standing with Jasper in front of the Chinese dish in the Museum (Lively 11, 12). There are two flashbacks of the same scene, at first sight only differing in length and the focalisation, one internally focalised by Claudia and one by Jasper. On second sight some changes occur in the precise wording of both characters. It is only words like “incidentally” or the mere fact that some direct speech in Claudia’s part is indirectly spoken in Jasper’s. However, the inconsequence of Claudia’s storytelling is clearly visible in the exact part. She does not only leave out things in Jasper’s part that have been said already in her part. She also changes what is said, partially even significantly. This phenomenon is visible earlier in the first flashbacks about Gordon, as Claudia and her brother are climbing a cliff on a beach to find fossils. Again there are two flashbacks about the same scene, and again words are left out in one part, that have been said in the other. In Claudia’s part it says:


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Penelope Lively's "Moon Tiger". Levels of narrative
University of Tubingen
PS I Introduction to English Literature
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Yannick Allgaier (Author), 2013, Penelope Lively's "Moon Tiger". Levels of narrative, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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