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"Treating the Literary Literally:" The Reflexive Structure of Flann O’Brien’s ... - page 44 / 50





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Chapter Six Conclusion

Just as O’Brien’s narrator attempts to start his manuscript with three simultaneous beginnings, he offers his readers three endings. Concluding his biographical reminiscences, the narrator reports the success of his academic year and the subsequent "patching-up" of his and his uncle’s differences. This is a conventional conclusion for a conventional narrative. At Swim-Two- Birds’ remaining narrative levels, the reader expects, will be resolved in a far more interesting manner. However, after all of the complex narrative structures and strange rules of reality within the narrator’s manuscript, he concludes in a highly suspect manner; the solution to Trellis’ torture is troublingly simplistic. The narrator’s "Conclusion of the Book, penultimate" (312) involves a jump back to Trellis’ original narrative plane:

Teresa, a servant employed at the Red Swan Hotel, knocked at the master’s door with the intention of taking away the tray but eliciting no response, she opened the door and found to her surprise that the room was empty. Assuming that the master had gone to a certain place, she placed the tray on the landing and returned to the room for the purpose of putting it to rights. She revived the fire and made a good blaze by putting into it several sheets of writing which were littered here and there about the floor (not improbably a result of the open window). By a curious coincidence as a matter of fact strange to say it happened that these same pages were those of the master’s novel, the pages which made and sustained the existence of Furriskey and his true friends.... just at that moment, Teresa heard a knock at the hall-door away below. Going down she did her master the unexpected pleasure of admitting him to the house. (312-3)

Once again, the system of rules that has been built up within the manuscript is destroyed. Orlick’s power to attack his own creator is dismissed, and the consequences of Trellis treating his characters poorly are lost. Trellis is granted a reprieve, something that surely would not be offered by his vengeful characters.

Sorrentino, in "Fictional Infinities," suggests that O’Brien was "unnerved" by his narrator’s characters’ power and "may have glimpsed ... the possibility of his own irreallity, or to put it in a way that he himself would perhaps appreciate, he almost succeeded in erasing the line, thin at best, between what we call fiction and what we call reality" (147). It must be noted, however, that the manuscript’s quick end and its consequences are the work of O’Brien’s narrator, not O’Brien. The hurried finish reminds the reader of the cowboys’ torture of Trellis while Orlick was indisposed, discussed above in chapter five; at the first sign of Orlick’s return, Trellis is replaced in the earlier scene with a single sentence. In several instances, I have shown that the narrator is not a highly skilled writer, and his manuscript’s conclusion again proves the fact. This study is less concerned with the meaning of passages than their structural effects on the novel, a point to be stressed when discussing the final and ultimate conclusion below. The narrator’s penultimate conclusion is reflexive in its connection with the cowboys’ finish to their brief authorial attempts. They share a stylistic problem with the narrator.

O’Brien does not make it easy for the reader to come to any definite conclusions about his novel; the "Conclusion of the book, ultimate" (314) is very nearly unrelated to the earlier narrative levels. This conclusion backs away from the novel’s subject matter, forcing the reader to consider the whole of Ireland and the world in general. As there is debate about the reasons behind the penultimate conclusion, the author of this piece can also be discussed, with


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