Master Document: Narrative Movement
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Cross-Class Collaboration Perspectives Document (this is the raw information everyone posted)

Here's the PP from Concordia's presentation on Narrative Movement:

Narrative Movement in Joseph O’Connor’s Star of the Sea - Structure, Plot, and ConflictLauren Morgan, Lindsay Hofer, Jacy Marmaduke, Jack Thelen and Parker BlissUniversity of Nebraska-LincolnEnglish 252
Joseph O’Connor creates a compelling narrative in his novel Star of the Sea that manages to keep the reader’s attention for nearly 400 pages. Perspective, characterization, and other elements surely play a role in the novel’s overall impact, but here we’ll discuss how O’Connor uses structure, plot, and conflict to weave a story that is complex and gripping from start to finish.

What Writers Should Know About Star of the SeaA writer should be aware of the effects of foreshadowing, plot shifts, and flashbacks. From the beginning of the novel, the reader is aware of the punchline: Pius Mulvey seeks to commit murder, and Lord Merridith is his target. O’Connor uses the listed tools to build a complex plot around that punchline. Here, it is the why and how that are important. As readers, we are thirsty for details and explanation. As writers, we can learn from the way O’Connor fulfills that thirst.
Non-linear StructureA crucial aspect of the narrative’s overall effect is its non-linear structure. O’Connor makes the express decision to eschew chronology for the most part with frequent flashbacks that reveal new parts of the plot. At the beginning the reader is left a little confused by what the book is doing, but by the middle of the book the reader is aware that the flashbacks are tying all the characters together allowing for a more cohesive story. Laura de Rosier of Concordia describes Mulvey’s “internal conflict with how he identifies himself” as one plot point illuminated through flashbacks:
“(Mulvey) began to visit the pubs often and became accustomed to doing as he wanted, rather than as Nicholas felt he should. Even after learning of his child that Mary Duane is carrying, Pius leaves his home and the woman he impregnated, rather than marrying and caring for his new family as most would have done at that time. As the story continues, we learn of the multitude of names that Pius adopts on his journeys, as well as the various jobs he does to earn enough to survive. His fascination with the many words for stealing shows his lack of ethics ... Although his actions continuously support that Mulvey is an unethical low-life, these actions are contrasted with his love of learning and his distant support of Mary Duane by sending her money. It has been said that his objective is to kill Merridith, but his inner conflict may lead to a path other than the one expected.”
How Perspectives Shape the NarrativeThe story’s wide breadth of perspectives have a very prominent effect on the narrative and the complexity of the plot. Each perspective seems to be a telling the past of each character. With these glimpses into the past the reader is more able to develop a depth of character with their imaginations. Since the narrative is told from so many different perspectives the reader has to keep many different characters in mind making the novel a more complicated read, but it also adds a certain air of mystery around each individual characters past. This may be because near the end of the novel you realize that all of the characters are tangled in this web of relationships. The narrative of the story seems to be mostly pushed by Lord Merridith and Mulvey and these characters do not meet until they are on the boat, but much of their past revolves around Mary Duane and this narrative approach makes for great depth of character and conflict in the end.
We read this story from so many angles that it takes on a three-dimensional shape. We know that Mulvey stole the hacksaw, but we only know about it because he was eyeing it and the next day the captain reported it missing. This idea of keeping the audience informed but still in the dark keeps the interest going long after we discover who the “murderer” is. There is much more significance added to the word when you learn everyone’s motives and backstories, not from them telling their life stories to the protagonist (as per most novels), but from actually living their stories with them.
Uncertainty in Star of the SeaA huge propelling element of the narrative is the constant state of uncertainty. De Rosier states it well on the class Wiki:
“The people aboard Star of the Sea are uncertain of whether they will live to see America and of whether they will have enough food to survive on. Pius Mulvey is uncertain of why he must be the one to kill David Merridith, but he knows his life depends on him fulfilling his mission. Countless people are uncertain of whether to blame the English or the Irish upper class. The uncertainty provides continuous tension between the characters and the events of the story. I feel O'Connor does this in order to force the reader to find his or her own answers as the story continues. For example, early in the novel we are expected to feel hatred toward David Merridith because of his involvement with with the famine, as a landlord. However, as we later learn through Mary Duane's perspective, Merridith is not a cold-hearted man. He has compassion for others, but resides in a difficult position at this time.”
Rachel Lindgren of Concordia elaborates on a similar note, commenting on the layers of the narrative that are revealed as the story continues:

I always feel like I'm on the edge of some discovery or everything will be involved in some revelation in the next chapter ... For example, in chapter six we are introduced to a document recording the last thoughts of the "wretched Husband of Mary Duane." The end of the document is simply signed "N." Also in this chapter, I found myself underlining the paragraph beginning with, "There are so many kinds of love in the world." Then in chapter nine a very familiar line appears, "So many kinds of love existed in the world; surely she had one kind for him," said by one Noel Hilliard who had unsuccessfully tried to court Mary Duane. I love this for its delicate storytelling and faith in the intelligence of the reader to make the connections throughout the narration.”
What We Learned
  • Backward isn’t all bad. The story has two sets of motion: Forward motion delves into the events that take place on the ship and the Captain’s logs, and backward motion takes the reader into the past, revealing the deeper intricacies of what is really going on.
  • Conflict can be intense and frequent without being melodramatic. O’Connor’s narrative is laden with conflict because of the breadth of perspectives in the story. It’s inevitable that the narratives will intersect, thus resulting in conflict. The excitement of the conflicts and their foreshadowing keeps us reading.

Imagination and Knowledge in Our Study of Star of the SeaWithout imagination the reader would not be able to create an effective world that the characters live in and would therefore make the story worthless. It is important probably to have some background knowledge on Ireland before reading or while reading in order to create a sense of time and place. Having this knowledge would also enhance a reader’s imagination because it adds color to what might have been a blank canvas at the start. Without imagination or knowledge a story would not have existed and nothing that the reader was reading would have been any good because it was made ignorantly and without any luster.

Narrative Movement in Star of the SeaEllen Mueller, Laura DeRosier, Rachel Lindgren, Kayla NeslerConcordia College, Moorhead, MNEnglish 346

In analyzing Joseph O’Connor’s novel Star of the Sea—specifically focusing on Narrative Movement—we found four specific areas of interest. First, the plot of the novel is very much non-linear so the reader is left guessing. In addition, the novel uses many different characters’ perspectives which add to the credibility of the novel. Third, the physical structure of each differing perspective helps to emphasize the diversity of those sources, and finally, human relationships drive the conflict within the novel.

In Star of the Sea, Joseph O’Connor’s use of a non-linear narrative provides the plotline with a sense of tension, uncertainty, and ambiguity regarding the relationships between the characters. The novel switches between the present day of the novel where the characters are gathered on the ship, Star of the Sea, and the pasts of the individual characters. The flashbacks provide the back stories of the narrative and explore the connections and relationships of the passengers. Incorporating a nonlinear narrative such as this helps to create a sense of unease and uncertainty initially for the reader. Parker Bliss of the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, demonstrated this reaction in the reader: “I felt that in the beginning it was a bit confusing trying to stick with all the characters and trying to gather all the information that makes them up.” The narrative choices of the novel provided both frustrations and confusions for the audience that further serve as a device to connect the emotions and instabilities of the characters with the audience. This is a clear choice on O’Connor’s part. As Laura de Rosier of Concordia College said, “A key aspect to this narrative structure is uncertainty. The people aboard Star of the Sea are uncertain of whether they will live to see America and of whether they will have enough food to survive on.” The reader is brought into the morbid and at times hopeless situation of the lives of the characters through this non-linear narrative choice.

The narrative is used as another device to encourage a present sense of tension and surprise within the novel. As we are introduced to the back stories scattered throughout the novel we as readers continually discover for ourselves the deeper implications and sometimes shocking histories.

The framework of this novel is also choppy in the way that it is structured. Joseph O’Connor’s use of structure provides a unique insight into each character’s perspective. Throughout the entire novel, the reader is experiencing everything from Grantley Dixon’s perspective, first and foremost. Within this frame, O’Connor then provides us with the perspectives of the other characters. Each chapter places the reader, not only at a different point in time, but also looking through a different character’s perspective. At multiple points in the novel, starting at the transition between the prologue and the first chapter, we are taken to a point in the past where information is given about events that may already have been mentioned to the reader. For example, in the prologue, the Ghost’s habits of walking around the ship at night are described. Then the following chapter jumps backwards to the first day on the ship. Clearly, this is a flashback that allows the reader to gain information necessary for them to continue with a working understanding of the current events. Parker Bliss of UNL enjoys “how the narrative jumps from past to present, and how the author uses flashbacks to inform the reader of how all the characters’ paths have crossed.”
O’Connor uses this type of narrative structure on purpose in an effort to keep the reader engaged in the story, as well as constantly searching for the connections between each character. O’Connor is also motivated to use this narrative structure in order to make Dixon’s story seem more plausible. Each chapter provides information in a different informative style, whether it is a captain’s log or a first-person account, and from a different perspective than the one before it. Rather than providing a chronological report of the events, the various accounts are given in the order in which a journalist may have acquired them. By doing this, O’Connor allows the reader to have more confidence in Dixon and trust him as the narrator of the story.

Not only does the narrative voice jump around within the novel, the narrative structure of the writing shifts as well. Grantley Dixon tells this story through several different means—personal letters from the ship’s passengers, newspaper clippings, the captain’s log, and intentional shapes formed out of the words—which he would have gathered during his research. This diversity of technique enhances the dynamics and diversity of evidence within the novel and verifies that this information came from several different sources. The different narrative structures emphasize the differing perspectives that are shared throughout the novel. Each character would have a unique voice and way of sharing information and the differing physical structures of the writing portray this.

The personal letters and Captain’s log, for example, offer a voice other than that of Grantley Dixon telling us what the characters thought in a specific situation. They also ensure the reader that at least some of the information is true and not fabricated because we’re hearing it from a direct source. They follow a unique format from the rest of the novel because they are copies of the original sources.

The physical structure of the words—the way they are compiled on the page—is also important in this novel. Libby Evans from UNL points out that chapter twenty-seven is a prayer written in a specific form; the overall image depicted by the words is in the shape of a ship. This prayer is a joint effort by many of the passengers on the ship because they have learned that recent ships traveling to Canada had been quarantined and were not able to enter the country and they hope that they will not have to face a similar fate. Therefore the physical structure of their prayer may depict the unity found among the passengers in their wishes to reach the United States: the chapter is one prayer spoken by the passengers on one ship who all dreams of one unifying goal. As we discussed in class, the shape of this chapter may take on many form and not just that of a ship. It could be hands folded in prayer, a coffin, or a representation of the Virgin Mary. So the shape itself adds some ambiguity to the novel as well as the non-linear plotline.

Finally, human relationships drive the conflict and the narrative movement of Star of the Sea. Mary Duane/Pius Mulvey, David Merridith/Mary Duane, Dixon/Laura Markham, and many other relationships are the motivating factor of the plot and the cause of conflict. It is this love-triangle, love-square feeling that propels the action and as O’Conner offers the readers flashbacks, startling revelations are made about the intertwined lives of all of the characters. Parker Bliss from UNL picked up the idea of relationships driving conflict early into his reading. He writes “There is also conflict within the relationship of the servant girl and the Lord. This mixture of loathing and sympathy for the Lord makes him a complex character that you love to hate.” Parker notes that tension in the relationship between Lord Merridith and Mary Duane can also be seen in the relationship between Pius Mulvey and the rest of the ship. This feeling of tension adds to the gloomy feeling on the ship. Lindsey Hofer, UNL, best summarizes the relationship-driven conflict in the first post on the Narrative Movement page: “The conflict in this book is infinite. Every main character is tied in somehow with the others and we end up with this entanglement. It’s like a soap opera.”

Perhaps the most important human relationship discussed in the novel is the relationship between landowner and tenant. The conflict caused by the famine, the English’s ignoring of Irish pleas, and the refusal of the landowners to help their tenants is the entire foundation of the narrative action. Without this conflict, there would be no story. Luke McLaughlin, UNL, comments on the depth of the story, and the true narrative meaning beneath the plot. He writes “I have a hard time creating that depth in my story…I picked up a message about the crew or a comment made, and I didn’t realize its significance until I was done reading the text.” What Luke is probably picking up here is the Captain’s inability to blatantly express his sympathy for the lower class steerage passengers, and the depth of the sub-commentary about the relationships between landowners and tenants. These complex relationships are O’Conner’s way of creating tension in the plot and moving the narrative structure.