- ‘A variety of techniques can be employed in a text to shape a memorable storyline.’
Identify and compare the techniques used to shape memorable storylines in the three texts you have studied on your comparative course.
Literary genre in many ways is the art of storytelling. It allows writers and filmmakers to use the many tools of their craft to bring narratives alive for us the readers. At the centre of any great narrative is a memorable storyline and it became clear to me that many different aspects of a text contribute to the level of impact it can have, through comparing ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ (TCITR) by J.D. Sallinger, ‘Bladerunner’ (BR) directed by Ridley Scott and A Doll’s House (ADH) by Henrik Ibsen.
In these three texts in particular, setting played a crucial role in making the storyline memorable for the readers. In TCITR, the sleazy and self-centred world where the central character Holden finds himself is hugely significant in how the plot develops. He feels that he is ‘surrounded by phonies’ and that there are ‘screwballs all over the place’. It is this disgust and general resistance to the setting of the text that lies at the centre of the narrative. I felt that in the end, it is the conflict between Holden and his social setting that fuels the storyline throughout. Setting plays a similarly important role in BR, where a dark dystopian future LA is also at the heart of the narrative. Here however, the bleakness of the world is more immediately apparent as the opening crawl tells us of a ‘bloody mutiny’, before long camera shots of a dark and ominous cityscape where shooting flames intermittently belch noxious gasses into the night sky gives us an immediate sense that this is an unpleasant and potentially dangerous world. Similarly to TCITR, the setting here continues to play an important role in the development of the plot as we begin to see just how much of an influence this bleak world has on the main characters. Setting also plays an important – but more understated role – in ADH. Here the setting appears to be of secondary importance compared to the characters themselves and their relationships. However as the storyline progresses, it became clear to me that the setting was also absolutely central to the narrative. I became aware that it was the society that in fact was shaping the behaviour of the characters through the huge pressure that the societal expectations of the time were exerting on them. There’s certainly no doubt in my mind that the various authors’ use of striking and powerful settings really contributed to the impact of the storyline.
Effective characterisation is also one of the most potent techniques that can be employed to shape a memorable storyline in a text. In TCITR Holden is presented as an incredibly complex – and for me, fascinating – character. Because of the first person-narrative that J.D. Sallinger uses we are given numerous insights into him as a central character. He admits himself that he is ‘the most terrific liar you’ve ever seen in your life,’ yet as we get to know him, we discover that there is an idealism and sincerity to him that many readers (myself included) would find refreshing – and even at times endearing. He is consistently wary of ‘phonies’ and one point reserves shocking hatred for the person who defaced the wall of Phoebe’s school with obscene graffiti, admitting that he ‘just wanted to kill whovever’d written it,’ while at the same time having great empathy for some of the people he encounters. In the case of his former History teacher, Mr. Spencer, Holden feels ‘sorry as hell for him’, despite the awkwardness of their meeting. Because the plot of TCITR lacks the suspense that we might expect in a more traditional text, the development of Holden as a character is central to the plot. It is how we feel about Holden and his misadventures that ultimately shapes our feeling about the novel. In my case, I found myself engrossed in the journey of this eccentric and unpredictable character as he made his way around New York. Characterisation also plays an important part in the storyline in BR but I don’t believe to the same extent as TCITR. In BR, the central character Deckard is much more one-dimensional when compared to Holden. He is portrayed as a stereotypical Neo-noir detective: hard-nosed, clinical and introspective; but deeply unhappy in his personal life. I felt that it was only from the formation of his relationship with Rachael that he started to become in any way interesting. The characterisation of the replicants and Roy in particular was – to me – much more interesting and added significantly to shaping the storyline. Roy, a machine that was built solely to kill, learns to understand and appreciate human values and the precious nature of life itself. I found this extremely ironic given that the human characters themselves seemed to show a blatant disregard for human life. Roy’s iconic speech at the end really emphasised to me how far he’s come as a character. When he says that his memories will be ‘lost in time…like tears in rain,’ I felt that he revealed himself to be the most fascinating character in the text. Although his development is not as central to the text as Holden’s is in TCITR, he does also play an important part in how the storyline is shaped.
Another essential technique that can be used to shape memorable storylines is the author’s use of imagery. In the case of TCITR the image taken for the title of the novel is a very important one. Although he has largely misunderstood the lyric from the Robert Burn’s poem, I still feel it tells us an awful lot about Holden as a character. His interpretation of the poem sees him imagining himself in a corn field on a cliff edge where innocent children are playing freely. The fact that Holden sees himself as their protector, trying to save them from falling to their doom off the cliff edge in many ways sums up the entire storyline of the novel. Holden idealises the innocence of children like Phoebe and is desperate to protect them from the world of ‘phonies’ and ‘screwballs’ that he finds himself inhabiting. I felt that this idea was reinforced by the obscene graffiti in the school that Holden is so angry about. He sees it as an attempt to corrupt the innocence of the children. Another image that also contributes to the storyline is Holden’s red hunting hat. In many ways, the unique and unusual nature of the hat reinforces the image of Holden as an outsider, somebody who doesn’t belong in that world, and it is that conflict that is central to the plot. Imagery plays an even more significant role in BR. Here the consistent images of darkness and decay set the tone for the text of a world that has experienced some kind of environmental catastrophe and as a consequence has been abandoned by the healthy and wealthy. On top of that, the neon signs that protrude from the darkness evoke the crowded and often polluted cities of Asia and for me they contribute to the sense of claustrophobia that this future LA exudes. The other recurring image that was central to the plot is that of the eye. It appears repeatedly and emphasised many of the themes that were present in the film. The idea that it was impossible to tell who was a replicant or not simply by looking at them, tied in neatly with the idea that at the end the humanity shown by the replicants proved that appearances and the prejudices that accompany them are often very misleading. I really admired the way that the imagery so cleverly emphasised that aspect of the storyline. Imagery was also of central importance to the narrative in ADH, where like TCITR, the image in the title was of crucial importance. The idea that the Nora is effectively a doll, living in a doll’s house, was at the heart of the text. It was clear to me early in the play that she was no more than a plaything to Torvald; and her attempt to break free from that house – and from playing that role – effectively formed the climax of the plot of the text. All three authors used imagery in different – but quite significant – ways to help shape the storyline of their texts.
One thing that emerged for me from my comparative studies was a new appreciation for the craft of storytelling. From a point where I really only appreciated a text on its most simplistic level, I started to become aware and appreciate the great skills that novelists, filmmakers and playwrights bring to their work. The variety of techniques that they drew on to create such memorable storylines was immense and certainly formed in me a genuine appreciation of the level of talent involved.