A Maze Of Compressions And Themes In Tristram Shandy's Narrative Voice

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A maze of digressions and associations characterise Tristram Shandy’s narrative voice. More so than other prominent narrators in literature, Tristram occupies the space between the internal world of the novel and the external world of the reader. Such a narrative now requires the reader to play a more active role in shaping her reading experience, with the responsibility of making judgements and associations so as not to get lost in the irregularity of Tristram’s consciousness. This responsibility holds the key to understanding Tristram’s intentions and above all his personality. His childlike eagerness to convey his character accurately, results in a confused narrative. The absence of an ordered structure effectively calls on the reader to …show more content…
The narrative encourages its audience to become more than just acquainted by facilitating what feels like a back and forth discussion. Elizabeth Kraft believes that ‘Tristram Shandy is a conversation; Tristram does most of the talking, to be sure, but we readers are the listeners and our part in the conversation is far from negligible’ (Kraft, 1997: 49). Tristram himself indeed refers to the act of writing as a conversation ‘Writing, when properly managed (as you may be sure I think mine is) is but a different name for conversation’ (Sterne, 2012: 68). Tristram cares about his reader’s understanding and for that reason tries to be the best possible story teller, ultimately he appears to try too hard and this is where the reader is forced to play a part more active than merely listening. Kraft highlights the reader’s role as a listener, but there remains work to be done by the listener to make sense of Tristram’s purpose and narrative style. Listening implies passivity; the role of the reader in this particular novel is far more involved than that. Other rhetorical devices utilised by Sterne that help involve the reader in Tristram’s world include the frequent questions Tristram asks his reader. He asks the reader’s permission to explore a particular anecdote and even gives the reader pause to curse when he feels he is taking one too many liberties. The reader soon realises that Tristram’s focus on the structure of his narrative takes precedent over just about everything else, including absolute honesty. There is at least one occasion in the story where Tristram admits to fabricating a passage about Margarita, claiming it was ‘in tune’ (Sterne, 2012: 199) with his feelings as he wrote it. He stresses the importance of striking the right balance while writing his story and demands the reader see why he chose to leave the fabricated passage

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