The Four Questions Concerning the Narrator
FROM CONRAD’S MARLOW TO DÍAZ’S YUNIOR
In terms of narration, a series of crucial and complicated questions confront any fiction writer:
Who is the narrator?
Whom is the narrator telling her story to?
When is the narrator telling the story?
Why is the narrator telling the story?
What is remarkable is how often beginning fiction writers do not ask these basic questions.
In my work with beginning fiction writers—and memoirists—I have found that confronting these questions is often essential to successfully moving forward with their work. In recent years, it’s become clear to me that the increasing diversity of young writers has only made these questions more essential and relevant.
To put this in perspective, consider the original storytellers who sat around a fire after the day’s activities and told their stories to their tribe. For such tellers and their audience, the answers to these questions—who is the narrator, whom is the narrator telling the story to, when is the narrator telling the story (relative to the events in the story)—would be readily apparent. The why of the story would be revealed in the telling.
But unlike with those gathered around the original campfires, we storytellers now come from many tribes, and our potential readers also come from many different tribes. The situation of our telling has changed. And yet what I am doing as a fiction writer still comes out of those original campfires and their stories. Storytelling is storytelling, yes. But the dialectic between the storyteller and the listener/reader is far more complicated now. Today’s writer faces a far greater range of potential answers to the question, “Whom is the narrator telling the story to?”
When I gave a version of this essay at the Stonecoast MFA program of the University of Southern Maine, I started with a demonstration. I asked someone in the audience from Maine to explain where she lived to someone from San Francisco. I then asked the person from Maine to do this with someone from Maine.
Of course, the two explanations were quite different. The explanation to the person from San Francisco was more generalized; it took longer for the speaker to orient her listener, and she never did get very precise. With a fellow Mainer, the speaker used the names of towns and highway numbers. The cadence of her speech was quicker, punchier, the tone more familiar and intimate.
This demonstration was an example of two different economies of explanation between the speaker and the listener. In our conversations, we are constantly gauging how much our particular listener needs to know in order for us to be understood. In other words, we intuitively calculate what the economy of explanation will be for that particular listener. Such an assessment is even more crucial when one is telling a story.
To investigate this point, let me start with what is a relatively straightforward example, the 2008 Booker Prize winning novel, The White Tiger, by Aravind Adiga. Here’s the opening of that novel:
For the Desk of:
His Excellency Wen Jiabao
The Premier’s Office
Capital of the Freedom-loving Nation of China
From the Desk of:
“The White Tiger”
A Thinking Man
And an Entrepreneur
Living in the world’s center of Technology and Outsourcing
Electronics City Phase I (just off Hosur Main Road)
Neither you nor I speak English, but there are some things that can be said only in English.
My ex-employer the late Mr. Ashok’s ex-wife, Pinky Madam, taught me one of these things; and at 11:32 p.m. today, which was about ten minutes ago, when the lady on All India Radio announced, “Premier Jiabao is coming to Bangalore next week,” I said that thing at once. . . .
I have something important to tell you. See, the lady on the radio said, “Mr Jiabao is on a mission: he wants to know the truth about Bangalore.”
My blood froze. If anyone knows the truth about Bangalore, it’s me. . . .
When you have heard the story of how I got to Bangalore and become one of its most successful (though probably least known) businessmen, you will know everything there is to know about how entrepreneurship is born, nurtured, and developed in this, the glorious twenty-first century of man.
The century, more specifically, of the yellow and the brown man.
You and me.
It is a little before midnight now, Mr. Jiabao. A good time for me to talk.
By the fifth page of the novel, certain basic questions concerning the narrator have been answered. Balram Halwai, a Bangalore entrepreneur, is writing to Wen Jiabao, the premier of China, to tell Jiabao the truth about the Bangalore economic boom. Balram will do this by telling his own story of how he rose from humble origins to become a successful businessman.
In a review in the New York Times, Akash Kapur describes the novel’s opening:
Balram’s triumphal narrative, framed somewhat inexplicably as a letter to the visiting Chinese premier, unfurls over seven days and nights in Bangalore. . . .
As a parable of the new India, then, Balram’s tale has a distinctly macabre twist. He is not (or not only) an entrepreneur but a roguish criminal with a remarkable capacity for self-justification. Likewise, the background against which he operates is not just a resurgent economy and nation but a landscape of corruption, inequality and poverty.
Kapur here summarizes the tale but finds the way the tale is told to be inexplicable. Why does Adiga choose this letter form? And why a letter to Wen Jiabao?
The answer to these questions can be derived by considering the economy of explanation. Through the letter, the reader knows that the narrator, Balram Halwai, is telling his tale to Wen Jiabao, the premier of China. If Balram were telling his story to one of his cousins in his home village, the story he tells would take a very different form. Balram could refer to members of the family, places in the village, without any need of explanation or even description. His cousin would know these same family members, would know these same places.
But in addressing the premier of China, Balram knows that there will be many things in his tale—people, places, customs, beliefs, social conventions, historical events—that Wen Jiabao will probably be unfamiliar with. To make the story comprehensible to the premier of China, Balram will have to define or provide a gloss to these elements that are unfamiliar to Wen Jiabao. When Balram works as a driver, he explains to Wen Jiabao the nonlinear way street numbers are placed in New Delhi. When Balram is sent to buy liquor for his employer, he provides his epistolary partner with the following sociology: “I should explain to you, Mr. Jiabao, that in this country we have two kinds of men: ‘Indian’ liquor men and ‘English’ liquor men. ‘Indian’ liquor was for village boys like me—toddy, arrack, country hooch. ‘English’ liquor, naturally, is for the rich. Rum, whisky, beer, gin—anything the English left behind.”
By choosing the particular audience of Wen Jiabao for his tale, Balram establishes a precise economy of explanation. It is clear he must explain any reference that the premier of China might not be familiar with.
On a different plane, in choosing the narrator and the audience that he does, Adiga also chooses his relationship to his readership. His novel is designed and designated for an audience beyond an English-speaking Indian readership. Of course, Adiga knows English-speaking Indians will read this novel; after all, it’s a picaresque tale about an exuberant and ambitious Indian villager who experiences the economic changes taking place in India in recent years. Moreover, many Indian readers are interested not just in what is happening in their country but also in how the rest of the world perceives what is happening in their country, and the letters from Balram to Wen Jiabao play on the increasing international business concerns of India. But given the particular audience that Balram chooses to tell his story to, the novel’s events are presented in a way that will be understandable to readers who are not very knowledgeable about India and Indian culture. An English-speaking reader in Liverpool or Topeka can make her way through this novel without constantly having to refer to Google and Wikipedia, without constantly feeling that there are cultural references and subtleties that she might be missing.
Balram is addressing not just a stranger but a foreigner, and a foreigner who is privileged and powerful and probably did not start from the bottom as Balram has. Thus the tone of the novel will be more formal than informal, more extroverted than introverted, more in the tone of a guide rather than an emotional intimate, more about surface events than deep psychological explorations. The author tries to ameliorate some of these losses by having Balram emphasize his connection to Wen Jiabao as two men of color and to a certain extent two men of Asia. The fact that Balram wants to help the Chinese premier understand the how and why of the Indian economic progress lends an urgency and purpose to his narrative. This is the why of his telling of Balram’s tale. At the same time, it’s obvious that if Balram were addressing a cousin in his village or say his wife, the voice and tone of the novel would be entirely different, and what the novel would explore would, most likely, be entirely different, even with the same set of events constituting the story. If the writer chooses one aesthetic path, other paths become closed.
But that is precisely why it is useful for a writer to be aware of these choices and their implications, especially when addressing these basic questions about the narrator.
Let me turn now to a work of fiction where the narrator addresses his story not to a stranger but to a group of intimates, men much like himself—Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.*
To understand Conrad’s aesthetic choices in this work, it is useful to recall his biography and his position as an immigrant writer. Conrad was born and raised in Poland, then traveled the world as a young man as a sailor; in his thirties, he came to write his books not in his first language or even his second, French, but in his third language, English. In various ways, he felt as if he were an outsider within English society, a stranger in its midst. Moreover, as a result of his world travels, the subjects he was writing about—the colonial ivory trade in Central Africa, a revolution in a South American country, a disgraced seaman who takes up residence in Malaysia—were not the traditional subject matter or experiences depicted in the English novel. Conrad’s version of Great Expectations might have told the story of Magwich in Australia rather than the adventures of Pip.
For someone in Conrad’s unique position—a Polish ex-sailor and colonial traveler writing in English—his relationship to his audience presented a constant question, on both a practical and an aesthetic level. It’s no accident that Marlow first appears in “Youth,” which Conrad wrote just after he had signed a contract with the literary journal Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine. Ian Watt explains the connection between Blackwood’s and the way Marlow is set up to tell his tale in Heart of Darkness:
The first Marlow story, “Youth,” was also the first story which Conrad ever wrote with a particular group of readers—that of Blackwood’s—in mind. This defined audience may have given Conrad the initial psychological impetus towards dramatizing a fictional situation in which a narrator rather like Conrad addresses an audience rather like Blackwood’s. Marlow’s listeners comprise a company director, an accountant, a Tory lawyer, and a primary narrator, all of them ex-seamen; in effect they are a composite of the two audiences Conrad had himself encountered—those at sea and those he now visualized as his readers. . . .
At all events, through the presence of Marlow’s companions on the Nellie, the old friendly commerce of oral storyteller and the listening group is restored.
For an outsider like Conrad to determine the range of knowledge and expectations of the general reading public in England was a difficult task. And yet without a firm grasp of who his readership might be, he would have been hard pressed to determine the economy of explanation for the story and material in Heart of Darkness.
I believe Conrad reached an aesthetic solution to this problem by considering certain factors and influences that were available to him. First, Blackwood’s was the type of journal that would be found in the lobby of English men’s clubs, which were a prominent aspect of British society in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. There was a minor tradition of men’s club novels—novels in which a member of the men’s club told a story to other members of the club in a sitting room or over dinner. It is easy to see how Conrad might have connected this literary tradition with the Polish oral storytelling tradition of the gaweda. This men’s club novel gave Conrad a firmer grasp of who his audience might be. But then, by setting Marlow’s telling on a ship on the Thames amid a group who might belong to the same men’s club but who are also all sailors, Conrad further homogenized and particularized the group to which Marlow would be telling his tale. This gave Conrad a much firmer grasp of what Marlow’s—and thus Conrad’s own—economy of explanation might be.
Beyond this, the use of Marlow and the storytelling tradition returns the quality of orality to the text. As the first unnamed narrator makes clear, he—and hence the reader—was listening to an oral version of the story of Marlow and Kurtz.
The traffic of the great city went on in the deepening night upon the sleepless river. We looked on, waiting patiently—there was nothing else to do till the end of the flood; but it was only after a long silence, when he said, in a hesitating voice, “I suppose you fellows remember I did once turn fresh-water sailor for a bit,” that we knew we were fated, before the ebb began to run, to hear about one of Marlow’s inconclusive experiences.
“I don’t want to bother you much with what happened to me personally,” he began, showing in this remark the weakness of many tellers of tales who seem so often unaware of what their audience would best like to hear; “yet to understand the effect of it on me you ought to know how I got out there, what I saw, how I went up that river to the place where I first met the poor chap.”
This orality, this teller of a tale, stands in contrast to Flaubert’s aesthetic of a cooler—less emotional, less subjective—and writerly (recall Flaubert’s concentration on style) text. In a way that isn’t quite apparent in Heart of Darkness, Conrad points to a very different direction in writing from that of Flaubert.
For an American audience, this direction becomes clearer if we recall the difference between Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and James’s Portrait of a Lady. Hemingway once pronounced Huckleberry Finn the seminal work in American literature, and to a large extent, it’s the colloquial style of Huck’s storytelling, the presence of the spoken voice as opposed to the Jamesian written text, that lies at the marrow of this judgment.
But there are other ways in which Conrad’s use of Marlow stands in contrast to the more neutral stance of Flaubert. Unlike Flaubert’s projected godlike author who never announces his presence, Marlow is everywhere present; he is the lens through which we are told, and through which we view, the story. As readers, we must be actively engaged in judging his telling, in assessing where Marlow’s subjectivity might be coming into play. Indeed, Marlow never pretends to be objective. He’s telling the story of Kurtz for a purpose, one that he himself has a stake in.
Here it might be useful to bring in the third question concerning the narrator: When is the narrator telling this story? From Marlow’s rendition, it’s clear he’s a few years removed from his experiences in Africa. But not so much time has passed that he feels these events are beyond disturbing or engaging him; he still doesn’t possess enough distance in time to view the events objectively. No, he remains passionately connected to Kurtz, to the desire to redeem or at least ameliorate Kurtz’s actions. That is part of the why of his storytelling.
At the same time, Marlow is still trying to properly assess Kurtz’s character, to discover or decipher just where and how Kurtz moved away from the path of light into darkness. Marlow clearly feels both a certain affection for Kurtz and a certain loathing of him; he is attracted to the man and repelled. He seems to be telling the story again with the hope that he might finally settle on an interpretation of his experiences in Africa and of Kurtz. Yet in the telling Marlow finds that nothing has been settled, that his questions and doubts about himself and the man still remain. It is partially because Marlow is so engaged with Kurtz and his history, because Marlow cannot seem to let Kurtz go, that we the readers become similarly engaged. In this mode, a subjective and partial narrator involves us with his story in ways that a more neutral third-person telling—like Flaubert’s neutral godlike narrator—might not.
Because Kurtz remains beyond Marlow’s understanding and Marlow’s ability to capture him in his telling, Kurtz and his story possess dimensions and reverberations that a more straightforward, realistic third-person version of his story would not. As some writers have observed, for certain larger-than-life, many-sided characters, it is often best that the character be observed by others, that is, that the reader never be provided a direct glimpse into the character’s consciousness afforded by an omniscient third-person voice. Thus, Ahab is seen from the point of view of Ishmael, Kurtz by Marlow, Gatsby by Nick Carraway. The protagonist doesn’t tell his story; it is told by a secondary character, by the one who survives.
On a more practical rather than literary-history plane, how are these four basic questions concerning the narrator useful for your practice as a writer of fiction or memoir?
The tradition of Flaubert’s omniscient godlike, nonintrusive, everywhere-present, but not detectable author still guides many of our fiction-writing practices. As a result, when you write in the third-person, omniscient voice, you might not ask yourself who the narrator is or whom the narrator is telling the story to.
And yet whether you ask yourself this question or not, in your novel—and in your memoir—you are narrating a story. Thus, you are choosing a “you” to tell the story, even if you don’t think about who this narrator might be.
But if you do ask yourself who the narrator is, you must ask: Is this narrator a person like myself? And what properties of this narrator make her like me? Does that include my ethnic and/or racial identity? What are the narrator’s linguistic tendencies or skills or range of languages or reference? Or am I consciously or unconsciously assuming a persona as a narrator of this story (some developing writers of color feel a pressure to assume the voice of a white middle-class narrator)? And if this is a persona, who is this persona? Which linguistic tendencies or skills or range of language or reference does this persona possess? If I am writing of a world outside a narrowly defined white middle-class range of experience—whether in terms of ethnicity or race or sexuality or class or in terms of science fiction or fantasy—is the narrator part of the world she is narrating about or is she not from that world?
Of course, if your narration is in a first-person voice, you will inevitably ask, Who is this narrator? And who is this narrator’s voice going to speak or write like? You realize that you are not just positing a narrator; you are creating a character with a voice.
But the question of who is the narrator also bears a relationship to the question of whom the narrator is telling the story to because any narrator adjusts the telling of her story to the audience she is telling the story to. If she does not know the audience she is telling the story to, she does not know what knowledge and experience she can assume on the part of her listeners/readers and what knowledge she needs to provide for her listeners/readers to understand the story she is telling.
As a way of demonstrating and explaining my point here, I’ll describe an exercise my friend, the writer Chris Abani, conducts with his students. In this exercise, Abani asks a student to tell the class a five-minute story about anything the student chooses. He records the student telling the story.
Invariably, the student tells a clear and coherent story, one that no one in the class has trouble understanding. Yet that clarity and coherence may actually be missing from the student’s written stories. In those stories, there are often points where readers find themselves confused, where they find themselves asking, What is this story about? Often, for instance, the student’s language when she writes a story has little resemblance to the language she uses to tell her oral story. Abani also maintains that the narrative structure of the oral story is probably closer to the narrative structure that is most natural to the student.
In this exercise, why is the student’s oral story so clear and often so much more engaging on a basic level than her written work? One reason is that when the student is telling the oral story to the class, she is constantly considering what her listeners need to know in order to understand the story. To use my term, she has a fairly clear vision of what her economy of explanation needs to be.
Indeed, in all our conversations with various people, we are constantly gauging what our economy of explanation must be—that is, what we can assume our listener knows or understands and what requires further knowledge or explication. Each of us tells a story differently depending on who is listening to the story—for example, if the listener is an intimate or a stranger, part of our tribe (however we define it) or not.
But often when we sit down to write, we don’t think of ourselves as addressing a reader or, if we do, we have a very generalized or vague notion of who our readership might be. As a result, we don’t have a clear idea of what our economy of explanation will be. At times we may overexplain, use more words than we need. At times we will underexplain or omit information that the reader needs. The result is a text that is confusing not just for the reader, no matter who the reader might be, but also for the reader who wonders, Just who is this writer writing to and for?
I know, I know. In some quarters, you have been told not to think of the reader or your audience. If you do so, supposedly you’ll just lose your way or begin to write for the concerns of others or in reaction to the pressure of others.
But what I’m talking about here is not a commercial consideration. It’s the consideration that storytellers have been making since the very first human beings started telling stories. You are telling stories to an audience; you are trying to communicate, so wouldn’t it make sense that you decide who your audience is, whom you are trying to communicate with?*
Let me conclude with an example that is the opposite of Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger: Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. This novel is told by Yunior, a Dominican American, about his friend Oscar and Oscar’s family. At the novel’s start, Yunior says that the story of Oscar, Yunior’s college roommate, which is also Oscar’s family’s story, is a fukú—a curse—story. The story spans three generations, and the curse starts when the dictator Trujillo imprisons Oscar’s grandfather. The novel follows Oscar’s mother’s life, her immigration to America, and her starting a family and then how the nerdy, overweight Oscar falls in love with and persists in an ill-fated affair with a Dominican prostitute.
To contextualize Yunior, the narrator of Oscar Wao, it’s useful to look at Díaz’s first book, a collection of short stories, Drown. A few of the stories there are written from the point of view of Yunior, a young Dominican American, who came to the United States as a child. In the stories, Yunior has arrived at a young enough age that he probably doesn’t speak English with a Dominican accent and has gained mastery of the language used by urban kids of color. At the same time, given his roots in the community and his mother’s limited English, Spanish remains part of his daily vocabulary. The language of Drown is a mixture of these languages. Though the reader senses that Yunior is a bright kid, there’s no evidence of any intellectual or literary language in Drown. Nor are there many references to American pop culture.
But for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Díaz presents a Yunior who has gone to college, who’s an intellectual and a budding writer, who is familiar with the theories of postcoloniality and race; at the same time, this Yunior is someone who grew up during the era of hip-hop and possesses a knowledge of the American culture of that era, including an encyclopedic acquaintance with the genres of science fiction and fantasy:
No matter what its name or provenance, it is believed the arrival of Europeans on Hispaniola unleashed the fukú on the world, and we’ve all been in the shit ever since. . . .
A couple weeks ago, while I was finishing this book, I posted the thread fukú on the DRI forum, just out of curiosity. These days I’m nerdy like that. The talkback blew the fuck up. You should see how many responses I’ve gotten. They just keep coming in. And not just from Domos. The Puertorocks want to talk about fufus, and the Haitians have some shit just like it . . .
I’m not entirely sure Oscar would have liked this designation. Fukú story. He was hardcore sci-fi and fantasy man, believed that that was the kind of story we were all living in. He’d ask: What more sci-fi than the Santo Domingo? What more fantasy than the Antilles?
Rather than the consciousness of a typical immigrant Dominican kid, in Oscar Wao Díaz chooses to create a narrator whose consciousness and linguistic range and abilities are closer to his own. In this choice, he’s told me that he learned from the example of fellow New Jerseyean Philip Roth and Roth’s use of his fictional alter ego, Nathan Zuckerman. In his early Zuckerman novels, Roth focused on Zuckerman’s life, particularly his trials and tribulations as an author and a Jewish son. But in novels such as I Married a Communist, American Pastoral, and The Human Stain, Zuckerman narrates the tale of other characters. This allows Roth to tell the story in a language that uses the full range and sensibilities of his skills as a novelist, a language where he never feels like he has to pull back or put on the stops because such language would seem unrealistic in the mouth of his narrator. At the same time, by using Zuckerman, Roth posits a narrator who, in various ways, has a personal stake in the story he is telling. This is the same choice Díaz makes for his narrator, Yunior, in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.
But the key to that book’s narrative voice also lies in the audience Díaz chooses for Yunior’s narration: That audience is made up of college-educated Dominicans from the same generation as Yunior (and Díaz), Dominicans who have immigrated to the United States early enough to speak English without an accent or much of an accent and who are thoroughly conversant both with American culture and street language and with Dominican culture and Spanish. Through his choice of this audience, Díaz is able to create in Yunior an immigrant voice that is brilliantly colloquial, intellectual, and both Dominican and American.
Just as importantly, with such an audience, the economy of explanation is clear, both for Díaz and for his narrator, Yunior. No Spanish need be translated; a familiarity with Dominican culture is assumed (though Yunior still must footnote an explanation of the reign and history of Trujillo); pop cultural references can be dropped without explanation or context. In contrast to The White Tiger and Balram’s formal address to the premier of China, Yunior’s voice is intimate and alludes to a shared experience.
For many readers of Díaz’s generation, including those who are not Dominican, Yunior’s voice resonates with and speaks to them. Thus, there are ways in which non-Dominican readers feel they are dropping in on an intimate conversation, and because the speaker and listener understand each other, the outside reader can intuit much of what is being said—including the Spanish—through context. (At the same time, my very assimilated Nisei mother found The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao impenetrable, whereas she loves Jhumpa Lahiri’s work. As I’ve said earlier, each aesthetic choice provides both benefits and losses.)
In his aesthetic choices, Díaz refuses to place either Yunior or Oscar at the margins of his storytelling or of the culture. He also shows other authors from immigrant or marginalized communities how they might tell their tales without resorting to an economy of explanation where everything must be made clear to a white mainstream readership or some vague picture of a majority audience.
In this moment when we are becoming more and more aware of the increasing diversity of America, Díaz’s Yunior points to an aesthetic answer that is different from Flaubert’s godlike author and more like the immigrant Conrad’s Marlow.
A final word on the question, Why is the narrator telling the tale?
This is a useful question to ask even if the tale is told in the third-person omniscient mode, where who the narrator is may never be concretely identified. Any storyteller tells a story for a reason, and if the author doesn’t know that reason, asking this question can help focus and shape the narration.
With first-person narrators, the why of the telling is often clearer—and if it is not, perhaps it should be made so. Often, there’s a sense that the story or the protagonist haunts the narrator, as Gatsby haunts Nick Carraway or Kurtz haunts Marlowe or Ahab Ishmael. Of course, there can be other reasons, such as Balram Halwai wanting to tell the premier of China the truth about Bangalore’s economic boom.
In terms of time, Yunior tells his story of Oscar after a few years have passed since Oscar’s death. As with Marlow and Kurtz, Yunior is still close enough to the story to remain haunted by it, because it is a fukú, or curse story. At the beginning of the novel, after a long disquisition on the nature of fukú, Yunior tells the reader:
As I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, I have a fukú story too. I wish I could say it was the best of the lot—fukú number one—but I can’t. Mine ain’t the scariest, the clearest, the most painful, or the most beautiful.
It just happens to be the one that’s got its fingers around my throat.
Yunior is compelled to tell this story, in part because he was Oscar’s friend and as such wonders if he could have done anything to save Oscar from his ill-fated destiny. At the same time, his telling of this story constitutes his own zafa, his own counterspell against the fukú. Yunior’s affection for Oscar and his sister, whom Yunior briefly goes out with, is clear, and his telling is, in a way, a redemption of Oscar, a rescue from meaninglessness or absurdity. From the very beginning, we know why Yunior is telling his story, and that is part of what binds the novel’s familial story together and keeps the reader engaged with the telling.
The question, Why is the narrator telling the story? is also crucial to the writing of memoir; indeed, fiction writers can learn from memoirists and how they answer this question (and vice versa). I’ll explore all this in the next section and essay.
* I’m aware of the objections to this work, which have focused on its racist elements and its convoluted defense of colonialism. I refer readers to Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and Achebe’s essay critiquing Conrad’s portrait of the relationship between colonists and Africans.
* The question of whom your narrator is telling the story to certainly doesn’t mean that you should consider the broadest possible audience or that you should make this question a commercial consideration. No, this question is an aesthetic question, and the more precisely the writer answers it, the more precise his writing can be and the clearer the purpose for that writing.