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Paratext in the Fargo TV Series

I found Genette’s chapters on paratexts useful in thinking about the term beyond what I learned of it in my undergrad literary theory course. Even though the focus is exclusively on print texts, I found myself thinking more about televisual paratexts, trying to see what I could connect to the Fargo TV series and my own interests in Netflix comedy special paratexts.

This quote from Genette stuck out to me as I was thinking about how to classify some of the paratextual elements of Fargo beyond the “where? when? how? to whom? and to do what?” (Genette 4) approach, “The functions of the paratext therefore constitute a highly empirical and highly diversified object that must be brought into existence inductively, genre by genre and species by species. The only significant regularities one can introduce into this apparent contingency are to establish these relations of subordination between function and status and thus pinpoint various sorts of functional types, as well, reduce the diversity of practices and messages to some fundamental and highly recurrent themes.” (Genette 13). The genre of “TV viewed on streaming services” (I’m watching Fargo on my Hulu account) has many unique paratextual elements which I’m sure have been written about elsewhere, and then the Fargo TV series itself can be viewed as its own species, with individual seasons or episodes being perhaps subspecies. For this short essay, I’ll focus on Fargo 202, “Before the Law” to try and list some of the paratextual observations I have made and hopefully gesture towards inductively deriving some sort of functional type.

I need to begin by trying to define the opening sequences as paratextual elements before going further. To even classify this sequence as an opening/title sequence goes against many older generic forms such as the copy and paste title sequence with the same theme song and no variation (think any older cartoon series). However, many recent TV series have modified the opening/title sequence in creative ways like Fargo to diversify it to have meta-textual elements to the episode or the season (Better Call Saul, Bojack Horseman). One could contest that these newer, savvier opening sequences are not paratextual because they are so embedded into the text because of the production. However, I would say that they are paratextual by virtue of their repeating qualities that frame the episode. In Fargo (at least 2 episodes in) the opening sequence features a nondiegetic soundtrack, the opening text, split screen edits, and an eventual title sequence. These commonalities codify these sequences as title sequences.

The opening text that appears onscreen is the paratextual element that interests me the most. This writing seems to serve as the first indication of the show’s opening/title sequence, since it has occurred in both 201 and 202 with music accompaniment leading up to the reveal of the title (in 201 it comes after the cold open). As a refresher, the text reads, “This is a true story. True. The events took place in Minnesota in 1979. At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred. An MGM/FXP Production” written out slowly between scenes with nondiegetic typewriter clicks. As discussed in class, this writing is nonsense, as the stories are fictional. As an uninformed viewer, I would have bought this as I did with the film version, and so I guess Genette would classify this as private paratext? At the very least, including this information at the beginning of each episode reminds viewers either to consider (wrongly) that the show is about an (un)true story, or, remind them that it is a farcically violent romp through the Midwest. As opposed to the film version where this paratextual element only occurs once, having the TV version repeat it, and repeat it as an indication of the show’s opening, amps up the functionality of this paratextual element.

The nondiegetic soundtrack is one of the other main indicators of the opening/title sequence and one that has perhaps the most “illocutionary force” (10) on that particular episode. For example, in 202 the song is “Reunion” by Bobbie Gentry, which depicts a fraught family reunion where multiple parties attempt to appeal to the Mama of the family. The song itself is satirical in that the bulk of it describes petty fights between seemingly younger family members such as hair pulling, but then the speaker states, “It’s first time ever that the family been together. It’s so nice that we all get along so well.” As a paratextual element the song has more force as it sets up one of the main conflicts of the episode: who will lead the Gerhardt family? In the episode we see the matriarch, Floyd, negotiating effectively with the rival gang, only to be challenged by her son Dodd solely due to her femininity. We know from the previous episode that the siblings of the family squabble much like the characters in the song, only instead of pulling hair, it’s questioning Rye’s masculinity and ability to do his job. Through all of this, Floyd (Mama) is the one who mediates these conflicts and is likely keeping the family unified, as is often assumed through gendered roles of motherhood.

Wowee there’s so much more to say!

“A deal’s a deal”: Cause and effect in Fargo

“These are personal matters,” Jerry Lundegaard says, when pressed by Carl Showalter to explain himself. Carl is curious why on earth Jerry would hire a couple of thugs to kidnap and hold his wife for ransom. We learn that Jerry needs money, that Jerry’s father-in-law has money, and that Jerry can’t, or won’t, ask for it directly. But beyond this, Jerry only says, “These are personal matters.” Despite his reticence, Jerry’s actions—coming to the bar with the tan Ciera in tow and making the deal with Carl and Gaear—set in motion a chain of cause-and-effect events which constitutes the plot of Fargo and which confirms David Bordwell’s assertions that “In classical fabula construction, causality is the prime unifying principle” and that “the syuzhet represents the order, frequency, and duration of fabula events in ways which bring out the salient causal relations” (157). 

The causality of Fargo’s major plot is crystal clear: Because Jerry brings the Ciera to Fargo, Carl and Gaear drive it to Minneapolis to kidnap Jean, and because Carl and Gaear are driving the brand-new car with dealer plates, they are pulled over by the state trooper, and because Carl and Gaear have Jean in the backseat, they kill the suspicious state trooper, and because they kill the state trooper, they attract the attention of the passing motorists, and on, and on, and on. In this way, the film is organized and driven forward by causality. 

There is also a way in which this chain of events satisfies viewer expectations (what Abbott calls “closures at the level of expectation”)—the film’s epigraph has promised a “true” story about murder—and so far it has delivered a nitty-gritty (if not strictly true) story of murder. But what about Abbott’s “closure at the level of questions”? The first question that the viewer has been explicitly prompted, by Carl, to ask is “Why does Jerry want his wife kidnapped?” We are given a half answer (that he needs the money), but this only inspires another question: Why does he need the money? Because of the strong chain of causality and the many other little questions that are raised and answered (for example, Will the kidnapping work out as planned?), the viewer is perhaps encouraged to set this question aside for the time being—in expectation of later answers. As Abbott states, “at the level of questions, we anticipate enlightenment” (60). But do we every get this enlightenment?

Even though after the initial meeting Jerry is no longer pertinent to the kidnapping plot (at least until the ransom), the narrative keeps up with Jerry, but these scenes don’t bring the closure or answers we expect. In fact, our questions only multiply and our expectations about Jerry are confused. We might even begin to question what we thought we knew about Jerry from that first meeting in the bar: First, we see Jerry at home with his wife, son, and father-in-law, whom he is asking for a loan on an investment opportunity, intensifying our pre-existing question (Again, why does he need all this money?). Then we see him shaft a customer at the car dealership, upsetting our expectations about mild-mannered, soft-spoken Jerry Lundegaard (Is this a well-meaning family man forced by circumstances to desperate measures—or a habitual thief and cheat, cleverly disguised?). Finally, we see Jerry ask a coworker for an extra hockey ticket (the coworker’s response lets us know what an absurd request this is—Apparently, Jerry is in the habit of asking for more than he ought to), then lie to his customer with a plastic smile (Does he have any scruples at all?), and clumsily side-step the requests of a GMAC official for the VIN numbers substantiating a very large loan he has apparently forged. Perhaps it is at this moment that the cause-and-effect chain of Jerry’s actions becomes obviously jumbled for us—with so many underhand money-making schemes, it is unclear if Jerry is trying to cover up one dirty deal with another, or if he is collecting all this money for some other reason. But by the time Jerry discusses the investment deal with Wade and Stan, and he urges, “I don’t need a finder’s fee. Finder’s fee that’s…what? Ten percent? Heck, that’s not gonna do it for me. I need the principle!” we might begin to wonder whether this investment deal is just another of Jerry’s scams. 

Eventually we realize how wrong we were about Jerry Lundegaard: the expectations and assumptions we didn’t even realize we were making about him—that he seems like a nice, mild-mannered, soft-spoken kind of guy forced into a desperate situation—are unraveled and, furthermore, we still don’t know why he needs the money. And we never do. Thus, while one narrative thread (Jean’s kidnapping) moves forward with clear causality and routine gratification of the viewer’s expectations and questions, another parallel narrative thread, which we believe will takes us “backwards” into Jerry’s motives, only multiples our questions and confuses our expectations.

It seemed to me unconventional (and maybe even a little risky) to embed such a large question into a film’s narrative yet never deliver on it. Of course, we’ve all seen films which revel in taunting the viewer with the missing pieces (one example that comes to mind is the end of Inception, where unreliability of perception is a theme of the narrative and interpretation becomes a fun game for the viewer to participate in). But with Fargo, we find a significant gap in a film whose narrative seems in every other way perfectly willing to fulfill Bordwell’s description of omniscient and highly communicative classical narration, giving us almost unrestricted access to all details of the story, including cues when the location changes from Fargo to Minneapolis to Brainer (Bordwell 160). The narration is so attentive and omniscient that we even witness Jerry’s private outbursts of frustration—but are never made privy to his deeper motives. So the questions I’d like to pose to the class for discussion are: Is this a liability or a strength of Fargo? How would knowing or not knowing Jerry’s ultimate motives change our experience and perception of the film? My own inclination is that we as the viewer are made to understand that, to a certain extent, motives can be immaterial—Jerry causes the deaths of seven people regardless. That fact can’t be changed by intention. In addition, the pretense of a “true story” creates an expectation for all the pieces to fall into place—for “a growing awareness of absolute truth” (Bordwell 159). Yet this is not always the case—true stories may in fact be those most likely to be incomplete and unclear.

characterization differences in classical, art-cinema, and serial narration

The readings from Bordwell and Newman both present key elements and structures within different filmic forms. While Bordwell describes characteristics of classical and art-cinema narrations, Newman describes features of serial television, specifically focusing on the prime-time serial (PTS). The chapter from Abbott explores adaptations of stories to different media and what components of the story can be shifted and exaggerated or are stunted in these adaptations. My synthesis post for this week will be based largely on Bordwell’s and Newman’s articles. Though the articles outline many components of classical narration, art-cinema narration, and the serial, I will focus primarily on character (though there is much to be explored in closures as well).

Before jumping into character, I want to take note of two important terms used throughout Bordwell’s article: syuzhet and fabula. The fabula is the story itself, or the “aerial perspective,” “raw material” of the story. The syuzhet then delivers that story in ways that impact the viewer—creating suspense, intensifying emotions, revealing and hiding information, etc.  The syuzhet can be briefly defined as the plot — the way the story is organized and unfolds. Bordwell describes, “syuzhet represents the order, frequency, and duration of fabula events in ways which bring out the salient causal relations” (158). Two features or expressions of the syuzhet include the scene and montage—pieces that construct how viewers receive the story.

Both articles provide numerous distinctions between filmic narrative forms, namely classical narration, art-cinema narration, and the prime-time serial (PTS). The distinction that stood out most to me, especially in light of watching Fargo (feature) and Fargo S2E1, was character. In classical narration, the character is presented through a “objective” notion of realism. The character is “psychologically defined” and often “struggle[s] to solve a clear-cut problem or to attain specific goals” (157). Bordwell states, “In fabula terms, the reliance upon character-centered causality and the definition of the action as the attempt to achieve a goal are both salient features of the canonic format” (157). We learn within minutes of the arrival of Frances McDormand’s “Marge” on screen in the feature-length Fargo that she is a pregnant police officer in a loving marriage who must solve three murders. Her identity and objectives are defined at the offset and obeyed for the duration of the story.

In art-cinema, the character is presented through a more “’subjective’ or ‘expressive’ notion of realism. The art film aims to ‘exhibit character’…But the prototypical characters of the art cinema tend to lack clear-cut traits, motives, and goals. Protagonists may act inconsistently…or they may question themselves about their purposes” (Bordwell 207). The focus on character psychology as ambiguous and at times contradictory is a divergence from the classical narration. We learn within minutes of the arrival Kirsten Dunst’s “Peggy Blumquist” on screen that initial clues of her contented satisfaction as a homemaker and nearness to self-actualization were misleading: she had hours before committed a hit and run and is seemingly only pretending to share her husband’s dreams of having children and settling in Minnesota. Her behavior is contradictory on different levels, which can leave the audience to wonder if her actions are the result of a recent trauma (committing a hit and run) or extend deeper, illustrating her character as one that lacks clear-cut traits.

Newman mentions the allowance the serial gives in gaining a deeper understanding of the character as we follow the character through numerous events and interactions. He states “the investment in a serial character is based on a more novelistic progression of events over a long duration, with episodes like chapters in an ongoing saga rather than self-contained stories…Characterization in the PTS is more likely to have a certain kind of depth as the audience knows more about the characters’ inner lives in serials than in many episodic shows” (23). Thus, in the serial, the characterization may lean more toward the classical or art-cinema variety, but either way the audience is given a deeper understanding of the character and more time to observe growth and change (or lack thereof). Many questions about Dunst’s character, goals, and future are left unanswered in S2E1 of Fargo, presumably to be taken up in later episodes.

Okay then.

Questions:

  • What did you notice about the use of the camera as an “invisible-observer” especially in S2E1? What knowledge about the fabula was conveyed or confused through the lens of the camera and editing techniques?
  • What allusions or “citations” are present in Fargo S2E1 of Fargo (feature), in terms of syuzhet, fabula, character, etc.?
  • What cause-effect chains were left open in Fargo S2E1 and which ones were resolved?

A Need for Closure

Chapters Four, Five, and Six of H. Porter Abbott’s book The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative bring in many new elements and terms to narratives that are worth considering. Chapter Four explores narratives’ power, as they drive people to make connections and feel certain emotions, through the terms causation, normalization, and masterplots. Causation means that people will make connections between events told in narratives, while normalization points to a narrative’s ability to make people believe its events are real, at least when it is told in a convincing manner. Masterplots are repeated stories with similar structures and events, some universal but most linked to a specific cultural milieu, and all with the power to evoke great emotion from those familiar with them.

Chapter Five discusses various elements related to closure, meaning when the conflict driving the narrative is solved. Though closure often occurs at the end of narratives, it can also happen at other points or, indeed, not at all. A lack of closure, or suspense, is necessary to keep the audience engaged and the narrative going, as is surprise, wherein the audience’s expectations are disrupted. Narratives must strike a balance between meeting and disrupting some of the audience’s expectations, for they will disengage if the story is too cliché, and answering at least some of their questions. Narratives may even end ambiguously without giving the audience the closure they desire, perhaps to engage the audience and keep them thinking about the story and its themes even after it has ended.

Chapter Six explains different details about narrators. Scholars debate where the narrator’s narration ends, with some saying this occurs anytime a character is directly quoted in either their spoken words or thoughts. This is complicated somewhat when the author employs free indirect style, allowing a character’s thoughts and feelings to bleed into the narration at various points. Voice is another important aspect that refers to who is doing the narration, whether a character in the story (first-person) or someone more removed (third-person). Focalizaiton is “the lens through which we see characters and events in the narrative,” and while the narrator is often the focalizer, this can sometimes switch to different characters, such as with the free indirect style (Abbott 73). Another term Abbott focuses on is distance, meaning how closely involved the narrator is to the story whether in terms of their role in the story or when the story occurred. With narrators, especially in current times, there is always a question of reliability, as it is often unclear if the facts they present and/or their interpretations are entirely accurate, a fact that authors may purposefully exploit to some end.

Though all Abbott’s terms are significant to an understanding of how narrative works, his points on closure can be focused on in more detail. Authors must utilize some level of suspense and surprise to play with their audiences’ expectations, something Aristotle even commented on in Poetics thousands of years ago. As he deciphers what makes a tragedy, Aristotle explains, “tragedy represents not only complete action but also incidents that cause fear and pity, and this happens most of all when the incidents are unexpected and yet one is the consequence of the other” (39). Despite Aristotle’s focus on tragedy, the heart of his words still aligns with Abbott’s explanations of narrative in general: mainly, that it contains events which are meant to evoke specific emotions from the audience by presenting incidents that are unexpected but still connected.

Suspense and surprise are utilized by various authors for different effects. Charles Chestnut uses these techniques in The Conjure Woman and Other Conjure Tales not only through Uncle Julius’ tragic, often magical tales but also by contrasting his sneakier behavior with the happy-go-lucky Uncle Remus character-type Julius satirizes. Jhumpa Lahiri similarly plays with audience expectations in Interpreter of Maladies. “A Temporary Matter,” for instance, leads audiences to believe that the couple is on the path towards reconciliation after the unfortunate death of their child, only to foil these expectations when Shoba and Shukumar reveal a final secret that will hurt the other the most. Lahiri’s presentation of these events fits both Abbott’s and Aristotle’s description, as this tragedy evokes fear and pity through these unexpected yet connected events (IE. Shoba’s plan to move out and Shukumar’s hidden knowledge about their son). Yet expectations can also be played with to other ends, such as in the foiled tragedy of “When Mr. Pirada Came to Dine.” Because the story revolves around the various tragedies that occurred during the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971, both the characters in the narrative and the audience are led to believe that Mr. Pirada’s family is almost certainly dead. Therefore, when Mr. Pirada is reunited with his family against all odds, the audience’s expectation of tragedy is foiled and arguably, their happiness at this reunion heightened.

Closure is a key part of narrative, one that is played with or left ambiguous to produce different audience reactions. Lahiri’s stories all arguably close in unexpected ways, but for what purpose? Why bring together all these tales that purposefully foil audience expectations? Are these foiled expectations at least partially a result of cultural differences? Do they contribute to a larger theme about expectations? Furthermore, does her anthology of short stories give the audience closure with the ending of its last tale, “The Third and Final Continent,” or does this tale too only leave the audience with more questions? Focusing on closure, or lack thereof, in Lahiri’s book reveals how many questions are left unanswered though this, it seems, serves a larger purpose of keeping the reader thinking about at least one of these tales long after they’ve finished reading.

Meet Bob Chill

Hope I’m doing this right.

As we are charged with extrapolating a moment from one of the texts, I considered each and came to the conclusion that Robert Frost was worth examining in the context of the Abbott chapters we’re reading this week. I’m not choosing any one poem to look at because it’s my opinion that having been held in such high esteem for decades upon decades, Frost’s individual poems are not what people think of when they discuss him. Sure, maybe there’s a line from this one, a line from that one. But in conversation (at least in my experience) people say “this is like a Robert Frost poem,” rather than “this is like that specific Robert Frost poem.” That is to say the poems tend to possess a certain character that remains somewhat homogeneous. And this character, the character of a fictional Robert Frost, whom for simplicity’s sake I will dub ‘Bob Chill,’ tends to exist within a rather narrow spectrum of narrativity.

Bob Chill loves to go for walks. Sometimes around the quaint village where he lives, sometimes in the bucolic, autumnal paradise of trees, bushes, and shrubs populated with all manner of bugs and critters. That seems to be the extent of his narrative. However, the limited nature (excuse the pun) of his narrative is not a problem. According to everything we’ve read, that is indeed enough for a narrative to have taken place. “I walked past a bush and saw a bug” is, by some manner of measurement, a far more complicated narrative than our theoretical frameworks require. And, since this is the entirety of the narrative, I guess every Robert Frost poem is already an exploded moment. He has already done the hard work of unpacking a smaller moment, which seems to be what the assignment requires. So instead of doing that, which Frost has already done, I guess I’ll go over what I was thinking as I read this, the many chapters of the odyssey of Bob Chill (significantly less interesting than the odyssey of “The Odyssey,” I’m afraid) in conjunction with the Abbott chapters for this week.

I thought about the idea of the ‘implied author’ and realized how closely this aligns with the public narrative of Robert Frost. One would think by reading his poems that Robert Frost is, in fact, Bob Chill. There is nothing to suggest otherwise, as the ‘I’ who appears in the poems is never identified. Who but Frost himself could it be? Well, by most accounts the real Robert Frost was a total asshole. Maybe he did like walking in the woods, maybe he did like sitting on the trunk of a chopped-down tree to contemplate ‘stuff.’ But since he is composing these poems, creating these small narratives and constructing this myth about himself, then he is in charge of giving birth to Bob Chill, a heavily idealized version of Frost. After all, when writing a work that melts into Americana under the assumption of being semi-autobiographical (that was always my assumption when I had to read this crap in middle school, anyway), who among us could resist the temptation of making our asshole selves not look like assholes? Is Frost’s poetry all a sort of performativity? We are, after all, talking about the guy who would go to readings given by other poets and heckle them. Does that sounds like something Bob Chill would do? No, of course not. And I should know, because I know Bob Chill very well.

Bob Chill is the implied author, and I have filled in the ‘gaps’ in his character and narrative. If I may…

Bob Chill wears a straw hat at all times, as well as slacks and moccasins. He has a corn cob pipe in his mouth (largely as an accessory) and wears a brown coat that may or may not be made of burlap. He is old, but not too old, with a completely white beard and white hair that is only beginning to thin. Maybe Bob Chill has a wife, but probably not. Bob Chill doesn’t want to be tied down. That’s not Bob Chill’s style anymore. He’s been there and done that. When he walks down the street, always through a fine, pure white mist early in the morning, the few neighbors who are awake at that time wave hello and Bob tips his hat politely. But Bob Chill never stays long enough to chat. There are woods to be walked, bugs to be spotted, tree trunks to be sat upon and ‘stuff’ to be contemplated. This gives Bob Chill a reputation with the neighborhood kids as the village kook but all the adults agree he’s a really deep guy. He moves with purpose. The lines on his face convey wisdom. Bob Chill himself takes it all in stride with a slight smile and a wink. Then he disappears into the woods.

Your version of the implied author in Frost’s poems may differ, but I doubt it does by much.

Bob Chill is a pretty cool guy, I think. As a fellow left-leaning white man born and raised in America, I could kind of see myself growing into Bob Chill. After all, I do like going to the woods, staring at bugs, and sitting on tree trunks to contemplate stuff. However, like many other people, I don’t get anywhere near enough time to do this as I would like. Is this the appeal of the narrative, then? That this idealized implied author is free to do what people like me want to? Is this pastoral, idyllic porn? Is Bob Chill the idealized white American male for everyone on the left? Is Bob Chill really Frank Serpico after he disappeared into upstate New York? Why does Bob Chill actually look like Walt Whitman instead of Robert Frost? I don’t know. This, for me, is the crux of Robert Frost’s work.

Regarding his appearance, it occurs to me that I don’t know what Robert Frost actually looks like. Pardon me while I look it up.

Ah. As we can see, Bob Chill and Robert Frost are vastly different people. Robert Frost looks like an incredibly uptight person. He probably was. That clinches it for me. Bob Chill is not just the idealized version of myself and every other white American male as an old man. Bob Chill is Frost’s idealized version of himself. Someone who knows more than he does and only lets slip bits and pieces of his accumulated knowledge, thereby creating a sense of mystique.

Anyway, other thoughts in conjunction with the Abbott readings. Underreading and overreading. I have tended to do both with Robert Frost every time I read his stuff. Underreading because I have always thought of his work as contrived, cloying, twee, etc. The repetition, the themes and motifs become grating after a while. This is a strange position to find myself in since I so desperately want to have more time to look at bugs in bushes. Because of my position as a literary critic in training, I also tend to overread his stuff because it’s my job to come to some sort of conclusion about his work, and obviously I have a conclusion. And that conclusion is based on my interpretation of his work as cloying and twee. Perhaps that has to do with the primacy effect that Abbott mentions. When I was first exposed to ‘beloved American poet’ Robert Frost in middle school, I had long since devoted myself to Poe and all things spooky and dark. Robert Frost is the exact opposite of that, and the many adventures of Bob Chill are the opposite of being buried alive or suffering some other macabre fate. All of this leads me to wonder to what extent the new narratives we encounter are mentally stacked up against the ones we’ve already encountered and come to prefer. And to what extent this leads us to a symptomatic reading of any given work.

For what reason do we engage in a symptomatic reading of a narrative, anyway? For purely rhetorical reasons, right? I believe that my interpretation of Robert Frost’s work is the correct one, and in order to prove it, I have to pick out the parts that support my thesis. I would hope that I am considering the work in its entirety and that I’m not simply cherry-picking, which would lead to a thesis that falls apart under almost any scrutiny.

Hm. I’m still trying to reconcile my dislike for Frost with the attraction to Bob Chill’s lifestyle. Do I really want to be Bob Chill? What is it that bugs (in bushes, wink wink) me about this? Is it that Frost made the act of quiet contemplation so public, and how all of his poems read like that one guy you work with who wants to move to England because they just ‘get it’ over there, not like America does, and repeatedly suggests that you meditate, although this suggestion is really just him bragging how he meditates and is therefore more enlightened than you (thereby making him a ‘flat’ character desperate to appear ’round’)? After all, the action of walking through the woods does hold some cultural cache, does it not? It is indeed an activity of refreshment, enlightenment, attenuation, etc. And that this action, this narrative, holds such connotations creates a broad implication about the character of one who indulges in this action.

And, perhaps even more horrifyingly than finding myself lusting after Bob Chill’s life, Abbott’s chapter 10 has me agreeing with Henry James, master of the turgid. There can be no separation of character and action, at least not in the study of narrative theory. In real life we can know someone in almost all of their complexity. In a narrative, what’s the point? We’re engaging with the narrative to see some action, you know? And by that token, we want to see characters doing stuff. Rarely in a narrative are we given the space to know a character outside their actions. Therefore, it would seem the best narratives are often the ones in which character and action are intertwined.

Bob Chill does not exist outside of his daily, early morning pilgrimages to the woods. In his case, the narrative is the sum of his character. It’s not just the farce of placing Bob Chill in the work of another author. Imagine, if you will, Bob Chill in a Poe story, being buried alive or suffering some other macabre fate. It’s that Bob Chill can only exist in this tiny world Robert Frost has constructed, and nowhere else. He can only carry out the extremely limited actions that his character permits. Imagine Bob Chill standing in line at the DMV. Imagine him opening a jar of pickles but the lid is on too tight. Imagine him taking his daily, early morning pilgrimage and there’s a trail of toilet paper stuck to his shoe which he doesn’t see but the neighbors do. These are not narratives that he can exist in because they obliterate his character. And as such, the narrative and the character here are the same thing.

Ah, I can see I’ve written too much.