Close Reading #2-JPY

Posted: September 7, 2011 in Uncategorized
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(where intro will be)

In Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year, the entire work’s credibility as a realistic account of the plague years in London rests on the narrator. The narrator, also the protagonist of sorts, remains unnamed besides his initials H.F. until the end of the work. In a journal, especially one like Defoe is trying to imitate, the narrator of the journal usually immediately describes his or her personal background to establish a track record of reliability as a dependable, truthful story-teller. In A Journal of the Plague Year, however, the reader is immediately suspicious of the authenticity of the narrator due to the fact that the narrator fails to offer any initial, simple personal background or even offer the bare minimum, his name, to incite verisimilitude. For example, not until well after the narrator describes many details about the plague does H.F. reveal any personal information about himself. In fact, even when the narrator does begin to describe his individual background, all H.F. mentions is that his “Trade was a Saddler” and that he has an “elder brother” (Defoe 11). Without a thorough introduction to the narrator, Defoe immediately causes the reader to question the credibility of the narrator early on, and it is in fact questioning the reliability of H.F. as the sole voice through which the story is conveyed that enables the reader to notice the eccentric persona of the narrator.

The narrator’s character that resonates throughout the work, although strongly rooted in religion, is highly eccentric. By questioning the reliability of the narrator, the reader picks up on the details that make the narrator so unconventional and illogical. The narrator’s eccentricity is established in A Journal of the Plague Year through the narrator’s decision making skills. For example, when word of the plague first reaches the narrator’s ears, the narrator and his elder brother both must decide for themselves whether they should flee the city or remain at home where they would run a much higher risk of fatal infection. The brother, whom the narrator admits is also, like the narrator, a “very Religious Man,” decides in the best interest of his family that it would be safer to leave for the countryside where the risk of infection and ensuing death is substantially lesser (Defoe 11). Representing the more logical, wiser option of the narrator’s crucial decision, the elder brother’s sound logic and best efforts to persuade the narrator to flee falls on deaf ears as the narrator instead decides, after reading a randomly chosen bible verse, it best to stay in the city out of fear of opposing the divine will of God. However, the brother’s move to the countryside to protect both his life and his family’s does not endanger his brother’s relationship with God as the narrator has already previously admitted already that his brother is a “very Religious Man” (Defoe 11). So in short, the narrator makes a whimsical decision to stay based on the content of one of the 31,173 verses of the Bible. Defying the logical reasoning to protect his own life, the narrator, like his brother, runs no risk of interfering with his relationship with God by escaping to the countryside, making the sole reason H.F. decides to remain in the city irrelevant. Thus the unconventional and illogical reasoning of the narrator is brought into focus in A Journal of a Plague Year as the eccentricity of the H.F. resulting from his unreliability transitions into his own foolishness as a narrator.

The unreliability of the narrator, leading to the discovery of the eccentric narrator, contributes to the work as a whole by making the narrator appear as an insane fool. For example, the foolishness of the narrator is brought to light in the contradictory nature of which he takes both sides of the quarantine debate. H.F. first takes the side of emotion, in this case being against the mandated government quarantine stating “I believed then, and do believe still, that the shutting up Houses… was of little or no service in the whole; nay, I am of Opinion, it was rather hurtful” (62). Then, H.F. takes the side of logic, supporting the necessity of a quarantine executed, to prevent the spread of the disease further as he describes how “everything was managed with so much Care, and such excellent order… that London may be a Pattern to all the Cities of the World for the good Government and the excellent Order that was everywhere kept [by the quarantine], even in the time of most violent Infection” (134).  The two opposing viewpoints both embraced by the narrator H.F. on several divisive issues, not just the quarantine, portrays H.F. as a fool who cannot even pick a side on the most contentious of topics. By creating the narrator to be an upper-class, whimsical fool, Defoe widens the audience of his work as, in fact, everyone, not just the upper-class Englishmen, can laugh at the foolishness of the narrator but also too can the lesser-educated lower-class as even they feel smarter than the scatter-brained narrator.

Employing an unreliable narrator to hint at the eccentricity of a foolish narrator, Defoe is able to expand his audience to encompass all Londoners. With the full ear of every Londoner, Defoe is finally able to drive home his two purposes for writing a Journal of a Plague Year. Defoe’s first purpose of A Journal of the Plague Year is to convince the London lawmakers to enact a quarantine, of which Defoe was a documented supporter (introduction somewhere). Defoe employs a foolish, unreliable narrator who has a proven track record of favoring the emotional and often fear-driven route rather than the obvious logical route such as in H.F.’s decision to remain in London and tending to more strongly oppose rather than support the quarantine of those infected. In doing so, the audience, recognizing the irrationality of the narrator, learns from the narrator’s illogicality and would be more likely to support the logical quarantine on the behalf of which Defoe protested. Defoe, despite encouraging the logical route in the regards to a quarantine, retains the emotions of the plague. Thusly, the second of Defoe’s primary purposes is to scare people with the unthinkable emotions of a plagued people into preparing for the coming plague so that the imminent plague will be less devastating than the devastating 1665 plague. The narrator conveys this purpose in many instances such as stories describing the human emotion associated with the plague. All of the public is able to perceive the demoralizing emotion of the infection whether or not the narrator is eccentric; however, with an erratic narrator, the emotions themselves are more furious and nightmarish due to the way H.F. presents them from a frenzied perspective that only a proven eccentric narrator could accomplish.

(conclusion here)

p.s. apologies for any major grammatical errors or missing sentences that would seem relevant as it is very late at night as I am working on this

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Comments
  1. su1102 says:

    You’ve got a good start on your essay rough draft. The first two paragraphs are solid, then starting from the end of the third paragraph it kind of dies off. I don’t follow that Defoe makes H.F. unreliable so everyone can laugh at him and feel better about being smarter. It doesn’t feel like a book one reads for jokes, and the fact that H.F. doesn’t seem to know what he is talking about seems to only make people NOT want to continue reading it (as we have done, stopping at page 100). It may be like watching a bad train wreck, but after so many pages even that gets old.

    There is little textual support for the last paragraph, which is the meat of your essay and your culminating point for why Defoe has purposefully made H.F. unreliable. Your reasoning is also unclear; I can’t tell if you are saying H.F. supports or does not support quarantine and how H.F.’s emotional decision to stay in London (is the action of staying pro or anti quarantine?) leads to the audience supporting quarantine. Perhaps cite examples of the post apocalpyptic like London, where H.F. describes how empty and shut down the city is when everyone has died. Instead of just “demoralizing emotions” give an example of the crimes people commit against each other.

  2. […] to criticism. However, thanks to a particularly constructive review from Susan Su (link as follows: https://mbowers1102english.wordpress.com/2011/09/07/close-reading-2-jpy/#comments), I had a small epiphany that although my writing and logic makes perfect sense in my mind, on paper […]

  3. […] and thus I was less open to criticism. However, thanks to a particularly constructive review from Susan I had a small epiphany that although my writing and logic makes perfect sense in my mind, on paper […]

  4. […] and thus I was less open to criticism. However, thanks to a particularly constructive review from Susan I had a small epiphany that although my writing and logic makes perfect sense in my mind, on paper […]

  5. […] and thus I was less open to criticism. However, thanks to a particularly constructive review from Susan I had a small epiphany that although my writing and logic makes perfect sense in my mind, on paper […]

  6. […] and thus I was less open to criticism. However, thanks to a particularly constructive review from Susan I had a small epiphany that although my writing and logic makes perfect sense in my mind, on paper […]

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