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Function of Storytelling Essay

The novel Atonement by Ian MCewan and the short story “The Things They Carried” by Tom O’Brien both employ storytelling as a form of redemption. This is achieved in each text through the narrator’s freedom to manipulate the content and truth of the narrative in order to amend past wrongs and to imagine a more comforting, alternate reality. In Atonement, the narrator , Briony uses her literal imagination to alter the story of her life in hope to seek redemption for past actions with great consequence, while the narrator in Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried” tells and retells his version of the memory to help it become real. Both narratives show storytelling to be a possible healing process.

P1-First step to redemption is to admit the reason for your deception. A novels allows narrator to confess the motive behind his/her sin.

Briony initial stage towards redemption is by confessing the dangers of interpretation. quote- To her“reading a sentence and understanding it were the same thing; as with the crooking of a finger, nothing between them. There was no gap during which symbols were unravelled”(37) -quote shows Briony’s belief in the ease of interpretation which leads her to jump to conclusions she can never change. The blame for the tragedy is not only due to Briony’s misinterpretation of events , but the misguided nature of interperation provided by books.

“The Things They Carried” -The narrator describes the difficult conditions of war by describing the emotional and physical baggage they carry. Lieutenant Jimmy Cross carried the love letters from Martha. These horrible conditions forced Lieutenant cross to day dream about Martha which lead to Ted Lavender’s death. -quote:told they carry “pocket knives, heat tabs, wristwatches…and two or three canteens of water” which weigh “ between 15 and 20 pounds”(241). -quote allows the reader to feel the overwhelming weight of being a soldier, which words can’t simply explain. The narrator demonstrates the reasoning for Lieutenant cross’s daydreaming as a way to escape from chaos of Vietnam war.

P2-Using storytelling another step towards redemption is taken by character’s revealing repentance by punishing themselves for their wrong doing (reveal repentance/remorse) -briony becomes a nurse and turns away Cambridge. She writes about the hard work she does as a nurse. quote: “Whatever skivvying or humble nursing she did and however well or hard she did it, whatever illumination in tutorial she had relinquished ,or lifetime moment on a college lawn, she would never undo the damage. She was unforgivable”

-Lieutenant Jimmy burns Martha’s letter and pictures, thus destroying his distracting fantasy in order to become a true soldier -quote: “Lavender was dead. You couldn’t burn the blame”

-Something is missing in explanation. How can I tie in that acts of remorse both did not make amends.

P3-Novel is attempt by narrators to erase the wrong he/she did. The outcome of redemption differs for each narrator. -Briony alters the ending of the ending of the story in hope to seek redemption but does not achieve it because quote: “The problem of these fifty-nine years has been this:how can a novelist achieve atonement when, with her absolute power of deciding outcomes, she is also God? There is no one , no entity of higher form that she can appeal to, or be reconciled with, or that can forgive her” -No matter how many times she rewrites the story she will never receive Robbie and Cecile’s forgiveness. She can”t achieve self forgiveness because no alternate ending that she imagines will replace the true ending. -The only way Briony will end her guilt is when her memory fails and she dies. (disease)

-Narrator for “The Things They Carried” achieves redemption for Ted Lavender’s death because storytelling allows the memories of Ted Lavender to stay alive. -Storytelling enables the narrator’s memories to be shaped and rearranged in order to make sense of past events and make them real -The narrator achieves redemption for Ted Lavender’s death by storytelling because each time the story is told or retold the soldier’s in the Alpha Company are being given a new life each time by the reader. -quote:At first, we learn “he was shot and killed outside Than Khe” (O’Brien 241) and gradually learn “Ted Lavender was shot in the head on his way back from peeing” (O’Brien 246).


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