Enduring Love, a Novel by Ian McEwan. The Theme of Conflict in the Opening Chapter

February 15, 2021 by Essay Writer

“Enduring Love” Analysis – Chapter 1

The opening chapter of “Enduring Love” is the most well-known part of the entire book; particularly because of the extreme tension McEwan creates. The suspense is introduced from the very first sentence. The shortness and the fact that “The beginning is simple to mark” is so straight to the point that it captures the readers’ attention from the outset. It also helps to set the pace for the whole novel by getting straight in to the action and skipping any excess narrative passages.

The narrative discourse is also a contributing aspect to the tension created. The way in which McEwan neatly changes between present – past – reflective – future – present creates a different kind of suspense to any previous; a more ‘see-sawing’ type. This type of Postmodernist narrative technique reminded me of a similar technique found most commonly in music written in the later half of the Nineteenth Century. Altering the time signature in almost every bar of music is engineered to create more flow and movement; perhaps not dissimilar to creating flow or pace in a piece of writing.

The sentence “I’m holding back, delaying the information” displays a metafictional and retrospective narrative technique that is also heavily attributed to Postmodernist writing. This device is particularly useful because, by drawing attention to the fact that tension is being created, the reader will effectively fall for it and believe in the tension. “I’m changing my style now” is another good example of the writer commenting on what he has just written. However, another interpretation of the former could be that the reason any information must be withheld is because it was a too traumatic and painful experience to touch upon. This interpretation would also fit with the rather confessional tone that remains for the entire chapter.

There is a recurring and particularly strong theme of conflict which stays present throughout the novel. This theme is present in many areas of this particular extract, for example the serenity and calm of the picnic scene at the start versus the impending doom and tragedy and the conflicting differences in personality between the three main characters; Jed Parry, Joe Rose and Clarissa. Leading on from this point, these three characters are perhaps symbolic of our society and culture. Clarissa represents the literary world, Jed represents a more religious take, whilst Joe represents science. The theme of conflict is also extended to pose questions to the reader about the nature of humanity, the directness of which enhances the very colloquial, conversational style used. I believe the strongest example of this to be the decision between whether to hold onto the balloon and be killed or let go of the balloon and let someone else be killed as it has a direct link to the whether it is possible to draw a line between right and wrong; another strong theme in this extract. The reference to crops as being symbolic of the aftermath of the balloon accident implies that is the surrounding climate and social situation that determines where a line can be placed, and that being exposed to the elements or social environment can alter the outcome drastically.

There are certain aspects of the narration in this extract which would lead the reader to believe that Joe Rose is a particularly unreliable narrator. “Its door, or doors” and the use of the phrase “I think” generates doubt over the clarity of his memory of the event. Therefore, by implying that the number of car doors left open would actually be of great significance later in the plot, makes the reader question the validity and strength of the narration. Another contributing aspectis that Joe Rose is, being the focaliser himself, likely to be very biased; the fact that the character of Joe is entirely an extended interior monologue adds validity to this assumption. Although the sudden shift in perspective to “I see us through the eyes of a buzzard” does work as far as the more cinematic element is concerned, and it is inevitably very psychologically convincing, it does however lead the reader to believe that only an unreliable narrator could imagine a scene from a bird’s point of view.

Also, there are aspects of Clarissa’s characterisation which imply that she would be a more reliable narrator than Joe. The character of Clarissa is portrayed to have far more self control than Joe does, for example she “resisted the urge to run” towards the tragedy, whilst Joe had no hesitation and ran straight into the danger in a fashion that could perhaps be perceived as being a little infantile. Clarissa being displayed as a “well-placed observer” strengthens this statement, and the fact that Joe is not actually the protagonist (only a potential character at this point) could make him again, particularly biased. The direct contrast between Clarissa’s self discipline and Joe’s chid-like panic is shown clearly through the reference to the “knowable, limited plane of the snooker table”. This shows that Joe’s personal way of controlling difficult and unmanageable situations is to bring it back to something he can cope with, in this case the snooker table is something he would be absolutely comfortable within his social class. It is also significant that the spacial analogy of a large square setting of a field is condensed into a much smaller square setting of the snooker table, again suggesting that control is only there for Joe when he is able to alter things to manageable dimensions. The “comforting geometry” of a snooker table implies that for Joe to regain composure and control, things must be precise, ordered and geometrically perfect. The mathematical grace of writng and structure McEwan uses is significant in portraying Joe’s intense need for control and also how control is gradually lost in during the period of time leading up to the tragedy; the exact and balanced structure of the beginning declining slowly into a lack of any pattern at all. This again questions just how far Joe Rose is actually in control of his mind and consequently, his actions.

The juxtaposing images “cool neck” and “black foil” of the wine bottle is just one example of the ominous imagery McEwan uses to build up to the coming tragedy. The blackness and smothering of the foil is symbolic of the stifling moral decisions to be made later in the plot, and perhapness of the darkness and smothering fear linked to the balloon accident. The word “labyrinth” is another example of this. The word “labyrinth” itself has connotations such as the Minotaur and danger lurking beyond immediate eyesight; again giving reference to the unknown and darkness.

The final point I shall explore is again linked to the theme of conflict, and it is in the ambiguity of the title itself; “Enduring Love”. This has three distinct and separate connotations; everlasting love, love that suffers in its own right, or perhaps, love that must be suffered. This perfectly symbolises the barriers between the main characters, with true love being between Clarissa and Joe, whilst the relationship between Jed and Joe is simply infatuation. This title questions the nature of reality, and makes the reader feel uncertain as to whether reality is as it is perceived to be. It also questions whether being stuck inside the “furnace” and moral vacuum our society has created generates a greater proportion of strongly conflicting moral decisions, or whether the social climate has such a potent effect on those in it that the word ‘humanity’ is no longer able even to hold a distinct meaning.


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