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Depiction of character through style in Joyce Cary's political trilogy Mercer, Jack Ernest

Abstract

This study discusses three of Cary's first person novels—Prisoner of Grace, Except the Lord, and Not Honour More published from 1952 to 1954 and usually termed the Political Trilogy—and examines in particular the craft with which he gave depth to his characterization by providing each narrator with a unique personal style. The analysis of the style in each of the three novels follows a pattern. First the syntactical structure, pace and tone, and choice of words are examined as indicative of the narrator's character. Next the metaphorical pattern is investigated to assess the narrator's interests, motives, desires or anxieties. The allusions, references and quotations are identified and analyzed. This reveals the intellectual and cultural background of each character, and shows how much each depends upon outside authority to support his judgments. The narrative style and the use of descriptive setting are then examined to assess the narrator's dramatic qualities and visual acuity. The quality and use of humour are analyzed to determine the general attitude of the character to the world outside himself. And, because each protagonist gives his own view of his counterparts through his style and develops and rationalizes that view, these complex interrelations are also investigated. The application of this method to Prisoner of Grace results in bringing out the many facets of character of a narrator, Nina Latter. Her involuted style with its continual use of brackets reveals a mind in which there is clash of ideas and a conflict of emotions, the essential dualism of a personality torn between loyalty to her first husband, Chester Nimmo the politician, and love of James Latter, her lover and second husband. This use of parentheses also reveals a mind that qualifies judgments and perceives diverse viewpoints. Nina's sources of metaphor--natural phenomena, children's entertainments, war and human illness—reveals her feminine qualities as woman and mother, and by association they expose deep-rooted conflicts, claustrophobic oppressions and irrational fears. Her allusions and references show a keen appreciation of culture, while her wide range of humour enriches and humanizes her character and shows her strong capacity for happiness. In Except the Lord, Chester Nimmo's memoir of his early life, the narrator's pomposity of diction, his use of evocative expressions and rhetorical devices show his power as a spellbinder, his tendencies towards the demagogue. However, Nimmo's frequent use of a simpler style enriched by rural and biblical expressions reveals sincerity and awareness of human suffering. His choice of subjects for metaphor—death, buildings, oriental splendours, nature— shows preoccupation with death, search for security and foundations of faith, romantic tendencies and interest in the transcendental. His selection of allusions and quotations from the great exponents of nineteenth-century liberalism reveals his essential idealism and humanitarianism. The interpolation of philosophic comment in the narrative expresses Nimmo’s deep moral concern and his attempt to analyze his own motives for political action as well as to expose general evils in society. In Not Honour More, James Latter's apologia for his "execution" of Nina, the narrator's elliptical, telegraphic style, with its sardonic invective and ironical hyperbole, expresses the violence and paranoic fanaticism of his nature. His choice of abstract words reveals his adherence to moral absolutes and traditional loyalties. His subjects for metaphor—animals, visceral functions, sport—suggest a man of action. Latter's selection of quotations and allusions shows dependence upon authority and reveals prejudice of viewpoint. His occasional use of a simple, even sentimental style shows a warmth and loyalty towards his friends, while his awareness of humour in himself as well as in others also adds to this milder side of his nature. A trifocal view of the three novels of the Political Trilogy reveals similarities as well as differences in the styles of the three narrators, suggesting certain affinities between them as well as contrasts in their natures. The multi-focus on the characters allows each to be seen "in the round" making possible a more objective evaluation. While each narrator reveals subjective opinion through his style, the trifocal view distills the objective truths related to Cary's own ideas about man and the universe.

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