Purity: First Person Narrative

I was caught off-guard by the shift in narrative point of view with “[lelo9n8a0rd].” I was not expecting to read any first person accounts in the novel, and I’m curious as to why Franzen introduces this narrative technique so late in the novel, and only for Tom. I almost feel cheated that I get to know Tom, while I can never get a full read on Andreas, Pip, or Anabel. In some ways, it makes sense that Tom gets to tell his story. He is a journalist, and consequently a rather reliable, stable narrative voice. We also know by this point that he is Pip’s father, so maybe allowing him to share his story fills in for his silent, deferred presence throughout Pip’s life. I flipped through the remainder of the novel, and found that it returns to a third-person perspective. Why does Franzen think Tom’s subjectivity is worth sharing through a first-person narrative, while all of the other characters’ subjectivities must be mediated through a narrator, or some form of free indirect discourse? And how will it feel to leave Tom’s first-person voice in the final sections of the novel?

3 thoughts on “Purity: First Person Narrative

  1. I came on to WordPress to write the exact words “caught off guard.” Why Tom? Why not Pip? I kept thinking Pip is what connects everyone together. Pip is the results of all the intertwining relationships that go on in this novel. Then, it came to me. Tom is the cause of a lot of the relationships. He is the one to react to Anabel exactly how she wanted him to, causing them to fall in and out of lust and love and eventually have a child together. If Tom is truly Pip’s father and Annabel is the real identity of Pip’s mother, then he helped to create that relationship. Tom was the only one to hear of Andreas’s murderous secret until Pip, his daughter, heard it too and then they were brought together. Andreas leads an interesting life of his own and he is the cause of many connections in the novel as well, but I keep thinking of Pip as the main character. Pip is the reason why this story is happening. There would be no Pip without Tom, and so Tom is the originator. Tom is the first person.

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  2. I really like how you connected Tom to being the “originator”. I’d never thought of it that way and it makes a lot of sense. But I guess I still am hung up on why we don’t get to hear more from Pip, especially if Franzen was willingly to insert a first person section into the novel but then chose for it to not be from Pip’s perspective. Pip was the first perspective we got and every subsequent perspective felt logical until now. We got Andreas second because Pip was going to work for him, a mysterious character, and we got his back story through the second section. Leila getting the third section was a bit disappointing but I could still understand it as she was Pip’s mentor and we got to see Pip through her eyes. However, having a whole section from Tom’s first person perspective makes me question a lot of what I was thinking about the novel. I had assumed Pip was the main character, the book is even named after her, but we seem to be departing and only tangentially returning to the character of Pip. I feel a little bit cheated and hope that as the novel wraps up, we do in fact return to at least a close third person on Pip.

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  3. Like both of you, I was also taken aback by the first person narrative, and how Tom was the one who we received the first person narrative. I think that while the novel does seem like it departs from Pip as the center of the novel, but because Pip’s unconventional upbringing with her mother has shaped a lot of her personality and the mystery surrounding her father, by going through the narrative of Tom and who he is as well as the dissolution of Anabel and Tom, it helps us to understand Pip better. As we’ve established that Pip can be a distracting narrator, and her complex relationship with her mother means that any glimpse of her mother we would get from Pip would be slanted in Anabel’s perspective. By meeting Tom and Anabel in Tom’s perspective, we would get a fuller picture of who Pip is and how she was brought up. .

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