Readers closing in on immoral characters’ consciousness. Effects of free indirect discourse on response to literary narratives

Readers closing in on immoral characters’ consciousness. Effects of free indirect discourse on response to literary narratives

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  123456789101112131415161718192021222324252627282930313233343536373839404142  JðMELJAN HAKEMULDER, EMY KOOPMAN Readers Closing in on Immoral Characters’ Consciousness.   Effectsof FreeIndirectDiscourseonResponsetoLiteraryNarratives 1. Introduction Much work in literary studies is based on the assumption that style matters. Nar-ratology, for instance, constantly refines its set of analytical instruments, claiming that every new distinction that is made is an essential one, with significant impli-cations for our understanding of a particular story, or narratives in general. One widely debated aspect regards the difference in modes of representing conscious-ness, such as free indirect discourse (FID). Scholarly disputes pertain to its srcin,history and distribution, its proper name (e.g.,  style indirect libre  ,  erlebte Rede  , freeindirect speech, veiled ordisguised speech), and nature (e.g., as a purely linguisticphenomenon,orascontext-dependentreaderinferences).Giventheextensivethe-oretical attention the phenomenon enjoys, we wondered whether empirical re-searchsupportsclaimsabouttheimpactof thisstylisticdeviceonreaderresponses.In the present article we will investigate whether FID matters, and if so, under which conditions.Besidestheprominenceof FIDinnarratology,therearetwomorereasonsitmay make an interesting case in point. Hypotheses about the effects of FID are some-times contradictory, which makes them suitable candidates for empirical testing.Moreover, the relevance of these issues goes beyond the study of literary texts.FID occurs in various text types (Semino/Short 2004; Fludernik 1993) as wellas in speech (Zyngier/Van Peer/Hakemulder 2007). We would like to argue, how-ever,thattherelevanceofaphenomenondoesnotonlydependonthefrequencyof occurrencesortheirdistribution.Relevancealsodependsoneffects.Knowingmoreaboutthe validityof narratologists’claims woulddeepen ourunderstanding of the workings of narrative in literary and other modes of communication.Toenableexactpredictions,wefirstneedtodefinethephenomenonandexplorethe hypotheses formulated by narratologists. Consensus is that FID representscharacters’ thoughts and feelings as well as the narrator’s voice. As Leech andShort indicate, free indirect speech has the »ability to give the flavour of the char-acter’swordsbutalsotokeepthenarratorinaninterveningpositionbetweenchar-acter and reader« (1981, 326). Similarly, in a linguistic definition »FID give[s] the  JLT 4:1 (2010), 1–22. DOI 10.1515/JLT.2010.003  123456789101112131415161718192021222324252627282930313233343536373839404142   impression of combining direct discourse with indirect discourse« (Rimmon-Kenan 1983, 112). As opposed to direct discourse, FID does not use quotationmarks, and as opposed to regular indirect discourse, FID does not use a reporting clause (»s/he said…«). Moreover, a verb that would be present tense in direct dis-coursebecomespasttenseinFID.Totakeanexamplefromtheliterarytextweusedfor the studies reported below, in the sentence  ›I don’t know‹, the young officer an-swered  ,the first clause is directdiscourse, while He did not know!  is FID.While theuseof thethirdpersonindicatesthatanarratoris›reporting‹,thethoughtsandfeel-ings that are expressed seem to srcinate in the character’s consciousness, which isemphasized by the use of the exclamation point (cf. Rimmon-Kenan 1983, 115).Thus, linguistic markers for FID are typically the presence of third person pro-nouns and past tense, and the absence of a reporting verb or quotation marks.Leech and Short, however, argue that free indirect discourse does not dependuponspecificlinguisticfeatures.Accordingtothem,anexclamationpoint(asillus-trated above) or another phrasing which signals the character’s manner of expres-sioncanmakethedifferencebetweensimpleindirectrepresentationofacharacter’sspeechandfreeindirect discourse(1981,332).Whatprimarily definesthefreein-directmodeiscontext,ormorespecifically,itsintermediarypositionbetweenchar-acters’andnarrator’sspeech.ComparetheexamplesgivenbyLeechandShort:»Hesaid that the bloody train had been late« versus »He told her to leave him alone!«(1981, 331). While these sentences incorporate a reporting clause, the swearwordin the first and the exclamation point in the second indicate the plausible presenceof the character’s voice.Inthe studies presented belowweexamined theeffect FIDhasonreaderresponsesbytransposingnarratortextanddirectspeechintoFID.Tomaximizethepercentageof textthatmightbeinterpretedasFIDbyourreaders,wemadeuseofallpossiblemeanssuggestedbynarratologists,thatis,boththelinguis-tic markers as well as the context-based approach.Speculationsabouttheeffectsof FIDtypicallyincludebothironyandempathy. According to Leech and Short free indirect speech distances the reader from thecharacter’s words, since »the authorial voice is interposed between the reader and what the character says« (1981, 334). The simultaneous occurrence of two pointsof view can have an ironic effect when the narrator and the character do not sharethesamepointof view,butironydoesnotnecessarilyoccur(ibid.,336).Moreover,as Leech and Short also indicate, compared to more indirect modes of speech rep-resentation,freeindirectspeechcanbeperceivedasratherdirect(ibid.).Inthecon-textofthepresentstudy,wewillusefreeindirectspeechandFIDinterchangeably.Itseems to us the differences are small and unperceivable for a general reading audi-ence, although, of course this remains an empirical question.Like Leech and Short, Rimmon-Kenan recognizes the possible effect of ironicdistancing, but suggests that FID could also promote empathy: »the tinting of thenarrator’sspeechwiththecharacter’slanguageormodeofexperiencemaypromotean empathic identification on the part of the reader« (1983, 115). Similarly, Wal-  Jmeljan Hakemulder, Emy Koopman 2  123456789101112131415161718192021222324252627282930313233343536373839404142   ravens(1980)suggeststhattherepresentationofthoughtsthroughFIDisparadoxi-cally the most direct form. It creates a connection between narrator and characterand therefore between reader and character. Bringing readers closer to characters, Walravens proposes, may well lead to identification. For our studies we selected a text, Borowski’s short story ›The Record‹ that pertains exactly to this difference of opinion. This short story has an ironic narrator,and a morally dubious main char-acter with whom readers might not easily identify with. We were interested to see whetherhigherlevelsof FIDmightfacilitateidentification,or,onthecontrary,cre-ate an even larger distance between readers and the character.Relatedtotheissueofempathyversusironyisthedebateaboutthepolyphonyordual voice (Pascal 1977) that is assumed to resound in FID. Again, predictions arecontradictory.SomesuggestthatFIDcanfunctionasthemaskedexpressionof theopinion of the author, smuggled in, in order to ingratiate itself with the innocentreader; hence veiled or disguised speech (Kalepky, quoted in Pascal 1977, 13). A more complex prediction can be found in Rimmon-Kenan’s account of theFID-Hypothesis (1983, 115). On the one hand, she says, it can be argued thatthe polyphony of voices hinders readers’ interpretation of the story’s moral. Ontheotherhand,FIDmayhelpreadersmakesense of immoralattitudes andbehav-ior of characters and help readers reconstruct the implied author’s attitude towardthecharacter(ibid.,113–15).Aswewillexplainbelow,ourstorypresentsasinisteroutlookonthemaincharacter.However,weareuncertainastowhatimpliedread-ers›should‹feel:eitherstraightforwardmoralresentment,oramildercombinationofdisgustandunderstanding.Itisnotclearwhetherthecharacterisamoraldegen-erate or just pathetic. Nordoes the story hint atwhat makes him thatway,circum-stances or personality. Hence, we were interested to find out whether FID wouldclarify the point of the story, the opinion of the (implied) author and narrator, ormakethemevenmoreindistinct,andfinally,whetheritaffectsreaders’judgments.In sum, multiple contrasting hypotheses can be deduced from theory: FID ei-thermakestheattitudeof theauthorand/ornarratortowardthecharacterlessclearormoreclear,thuseitherblurringorclarifyingthepointofastory.Inaddition,FIDeither increases readers’ empathy and sympathy for a character, or it enhances thedistancebetweenreadersandcharacter(throughtheeffectofirony).FIDmaymakethe thoughts and feelings of the character seem more visible to readers. If readersfeel they have increased access to characters’stream of consciousness, their under-standing of the character may increase too. But does it? And, if so, under whichcircumstances?Before launching into empirical research attempting to answer so many ques-tions,letusrefineourhypothesesinabriefoverviewofearlierexperimentalstudies.Schram(1985)appearstohavebeenthefirsttoexaminetheeffectof FIDoniden-tificationwithaliterarycharacter.Participantsinhisstudy–highschoolstudents–read a version of a literary text (›Queen’s Day‹ by the Dutch author Jan Arends,about a mentally confused but kind man who is arrested for wanting to knight a  Readers Closing in on Immoral Characters’ Consciousness  3  123456789101112131415161718192021222324252627282930313233343536373839404142   member of the royal family) and a version of a popular narrative on a particulardisease (an anonymous account entitled ›She will never be cured‹). Schram variedtheamountofnarrator’sspeechandfreeindirectdiscourseinbothtexts.Moreover,the gender of the main character was varied in order to find out whether a largeramount of FIDhas a different effect for identification when the character is of thesame sex as the reader.Results indicated that, as Schram predicted, readers reported higher levels of identification when the story contained a high level of FID (1985, 226). This was the case for the literary as well as for the popular text, but only when the pro-tagonistwasmale.Confusingly,FIDhadtheoppositeeffectforidentificationwitha female character: both male and female readers identified less with the femalecharacter when the story contained more FID. Interestingly, in the case of the lit-erarynarrative,maleaswellasfemalereadersreportedmorewillingnesstosharetheexperienceof thedifferent-sexcharacterwhenencounteringtheversionwithahighoccurrence of FID (ibid., 229). Maybe FID increases readers’sympathy for those who are different from them. Schram emphasizes, however, that effect sizes werenot large enough to be convincing evidence for his central hypothesis (241).Indirect support for Schram’s conclusions regarding the effects of FID on sym-pathy can be found in a study by Van Peer and Pander Maat (1996). Van Peer andPanderMaatexaminedtheeffectof internalfocalizationinastoryaboutahusbandandwifearguingaboutwashingthedishes.InternalfocalizationisrelatedtoFIDinthe sense that FID can be considered a specific narrative technique to ›internally‹represent the character’s thoughts or speech. In their manipulation, they mainly added thoughts of the characters in the direct speech mode. They found that in-ternal focalization significantly increases readers’ sympathy with a character.Thiseffectonlyappliedtoagroupof 15-year-olds.Noeffectwasfoundforasampleof 17-year-olds.Thissuggeststhatreadervariablescanoverridetheeffectof textualfeatures, as might also have been the case with Schram’s study.In a study by Hakemulder (2000) two literary stories were rewritten, ›Learning tofall‹byAnnBeattieand›TheButterfly‹byAntonChekhov.Bothstoriesconcerna woman who commits adultery. The text manipulation resulted in a version do-minatedbyfocalizationsof themaincharacterandaversioninwhichfocalizations were removed as much as possible, as the examples below illustrate: Original: Focalization main character Reduced focalization main character I stand beside him on the curving walkway.»Don’t throw coins from up here, Andrew«, Isay. »You might hurt somebody.« »Just a penny«, he says. He holds it up to show me. A penny: no tricks. Joanstandsbesidehimonthecurvingwalkway.»Don’tthrowcoinsfromuphere,Andrew«,shesays. »You might hurt somebody.« »Just a penny«, he says. He holds it up to show her. »A penny: no tricks« should probably be interpreted as a focalization of the I-narrator.ShefantasizesaboutwhatgoesoninAndrew’smind.Henceitwasleftout  Jmeljan Hakemulder, Emy Koopman 4  123456789101112131415161718192021222324252627282930313233343536373839404142   in the manipulated version. However, what readers make of the final sentence onthe right side of the table is uncertain. Do they conclude that this is what the nar-rator sees, or Joan? As the example shows, (character) focalization can only be re-duced, not eliminated.Oneof Hakemulder’sdependentvariablesrelevantinthepresentcontextisper-ceivedmorality–thedegreetowhichparticipantsconsideredthemainfemalechar-acter ›moral‹, ›sincere‹, ›selfish‹ and ›promiscuous‹. In both stories, focalization by the I-narrator caused higher perceived morality than the manipulated reduced-fo-calization version did. The effect was significant for the Beattie story only. In alllikelihood,therewritingwasnotpowerfulenoughtocounterweighttheironicnar-rator in the Chekhov story. Even though these results do not pertain to effects of FID only but to a broader category of focalization, it seems this study doesmake it more likely that small changes in style affect readers’ moral judgment. Again, we see that readers are biased in favor of the agent that narrates and per-ceives; see for similar results also Andringa (1986). A more recent study on FIDis that of Bortolussi and Dixon, published in theirimperativepublication Psychonarratology  (2003).Theyexaminedtheeffectof FIDoncharacterperception.Intheirexperimenttheyusedthestory›Rope‹byAnnPor-ter.Theplotissimilartothatof thestoryusedinVanPeerandPanderMaat(1996)in that it concerns a domestic quarrel between a husband and wife. The srcinal ispredominantly written in FID. Using this text the researchers produced eight new versions:twoinwhichthoughtsandfeelingsofthemalecharacterwererepresentedin either FIDordirect discourse, two in which thoughts and feelings of the femalecharacterwererepresentedineitherFIDordirectdiscourse;toenableresearcherstoexclude the possibility that the differences between the groups of readers could beattributed to the role and/or the sex of the characters, four more versions were cre-ated,usingthefirstfourandswitchingtheroles.Theresultingmaterialsallowedfora full-factorial analysis of the effect of FIDon character perception. Assessment of the effects focused on the degree to which readers considered the characters to bereasonable. The prediction was that perceived rationality would increase for thecharacter to who FID would be attributed, irrespective of character’s gender androle in the story.Results indicate that for the versions in which the wife’s thoughts are represent-ed,FIDmakeshermorerationalintheeyesof thereaders.Thesameeffectisfoundforthoseversionsinwhichthesamethoughtsarepresentedasthehusband’s.AgainFID made the character seem more rational. These findings comply with a secondstudybyVanPeerandPanderMaat(2001),inwhichtheyfoundthatreaderswho,becauseoffocalization,sympathizedwithacertaincharacterwerealsosignificantly more likely to explain this character’s behavior in situational terms rather thandis-positionalterms.Sincepeoplearealsolikelytoexplaintheirownbehaviorinsitua-tionalterms,thismeansthatfocalizationaswellasthemorespecificnarratologicaldevice of FID make a character’s behavior more understandable. Readers Closing in on Immoral Characters’ Consciousness  5
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