*Make up post*
In an it-narrative an object circulates from character to character, group to group, connecting numerous unrelated episodes into one continuous narrative. For the last three classes we’ve been discussing Pompey the Little, a novel whose “it” is, unconventionally, a living dog. As expected, Pompey circulates from character to character, class to class throughout the novel. His presence connects people as diverse as Hillario, who artfully tousles his bedchamber to impress women, and the Beggar, who “groan[s] out his soul” in a public stables. Today Grant pointed out that that, in addition to all owning Pompey at one time or another, these characters share something else; they all lack companionship and love, two things a dog can give. This made me really start thinking about Pompey as, not just a narrative devise that unites the novel’s episodes, but also a symbol of a deeper theme that unites the novel’s episodes (possibly the need for companionship/love). That thought got me thinking about it-narratives in general and whether an abstract theme, like companionship/love, can help make a continuous narrative out of an episodic plot.
Although it-narratives may be specific to the eighteenth century, some modern narratives replicate their episodic form. Two movies from the early 2000s, Love Actually (2003) and Crash (2004), use the episodic form of it-narratives without the actual “it.” Here is some promotional material for the movies that highlights their many, separate characters and plot lines:
Love Actually and Crash both begin telling several different, seemingly unrelated, stories. In Love Actually a recently orphaned elementary school boy falls in love with his classmate in one episode while the Prime Minister becomes infatuated with his maid in another. In Crash a black television director stands idly by while a cop molests his wife in one episode, and a district attorney’s wife treats her Hispanic locksmith with disdainful suspicion in another. As the movie progresses, the characters from different plot lines come into casual (or, in Crash, intense brief) contact with each other. This contact serves the practical function of the “it,” connecting the episodes narratively. Both movies, however, (and this is where this discussion ties back to the first one) also rely on a particular theme, universal to all plot lines, to unite the episodes into a movie. In Love Actually the theme is love. In Crash the theme is, arguably, redemption.
While it-narratives like Pompey the Little might be a distinctly eighteenth century phenomenon, if we consider the “it” in these narratives as a symbol, the basic form definitely endures to this day. Whether in it-narratives or contemporary cinema, a short practical plot explanation combined with a common theme can create a compelling narrative out of otherwise unrelated episodes.