Texaco – Narrative, Form, and Voice

5 Apr

Much like Joellyn, I have been very focused on narrative form while reading Texaco. I think it is especially important considering our discussion of the form and particularly the voice found in Oil on Water. Although it describes violence that happens to many, Oil on Water is framed by a singular individual. In a way, the voice itself is apt for describing slow violence. By using first-person limited, Habila confines us to the individual experience – while third person automatically frames a story from an outside perspective, first person forces the reader into the interior of the character. In this way, Habila’s voice is useful for addressing slow violence – it is representative of the kind of hidden interiority that seems to be exemplary of the difference between slow violence and the “quick” violence that makes the news and forces people to pay attention.

However, by limiting the first person to Rufus alone, Habila also limits our scope of the story. Rufus’ voice is representative of the slow violence happening to all of the characters, but because he is the only character whose mind we know, we are fettered in our scope of the story. Although his interiority is available to us, he is still inevitably framing the lens through which we view the experience of every other individual. Chamoiseau seems to attempt to solve this problem in Texaco, because although Mary-Sophie is at the heart of the novel, Chamoiseau weaves many voices around hers in order to complete his story.

This of course begins in the first section, “The Annunciation,” in which we gather different perspectives of the “coming of the Christ.” In this chapter, we are not yet aware of who our narrator will be for the majority of the book, and instead are given a nameless omniscient narrator who moves through the minds of these different characters as they experience the arrival of the “Christ.” Thus, Chamoiseau sets up a framework for this novel that is immediately different from that of Oil on Water. We open with a woven together story, and the rise and fall of the voices allows us to experience snippets of individual experiences.

As Priyanka has pointed out, this allows for a more “authentic” narrative, and I think one of the reasons for this is that it gives us access to a broader range of individual experiences while still allowing each to retain that individuality – in other words, the flow of the narrative does not blur them together but rather sets them up against each other so that a fuller story is told in between the lines that define each character.

Finally, I think that the “excerpts” from various notebooks are certainly worth considering, especially in terms of what Chamoiseau is doing with this particular style of narrative in terms expressing a story without limiting its lens or framework. As has been pointed out by other posts, it is clear immediately that the content of the excerpts does not necessarily align itself clearly with the flow of the story around it. They are purposefully disruptive and arresting, asking the reader to pause and hold another voice in tension with the one that we are already reading. Chamoiseau uses these excerpts as another level of that constant “circling” around the truth that he is attempting to reveal without directly delivering the story from a singular, linear source. In this way, it seems that he is taking Habila’s stylistic attempt to grasp an elusive “interior” experience and fortifying it with a more complex narrative voice, one that perhaps more clearly captures the particular nature of the violence being expressed. 

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