Thoughts about it-narratives, theme, and contemporary cinema

*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.

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2 thoughts on “Thoughts about it-narratives, theme, and contemporary cinema

  1. This post strongly argues that although it-narratives are born largely out of the eighteenth century, the central idea of this literature is still evident in current media such as movies. The idea being that there is some concept or thing that is continuous throughout the entirety. For the novel of Francis Coventry it is the dog, Pompey.
    The situations that Pompey is placed in are strongly contrasted to each former character he was currently residing, yet the reader seems to believe the transition to each situation. However, one of the issues our class talked about was the limited detail given of each character that Pompey is with. As readers, we only a see a certain scope of that individual. Coventry refrains from telling the full story. It seems abrupt, but Coventry informs the reader with just enough information. In large part, this style is similar to the two movies. Love Actually has many scenarios with many characters. Although the movie reveals the ending for each character, we only see certain elements during the movie which lead up to the ending. Even with the omission of each character’s entire story, the key elements are provided to move the plot along. This is likewise in The History of Pompey the Little. Although we do not follow the same characters, the reader knows enough information to understand some aspect of Coventry’s message.

  2. I think this post brings forth a lot of thought provoking material. In a lot of ways, this post discusses the ways in which conventional “it” narratives have transformed to stories that show the interconnected nature of unconnected people or themes. Personally, I viewed Pompey as a window into different people and lifestyles. As we discussed in class, it is easy to forget that Pompey is in certain scenes, so I felt almost like a fly on the wall as a reader, looking in on these people. I think Crash is a great example of a contemporary story that works in the same ways as Pompey the Little. Crash tells so many stories from such a diverse set of people, yet all the stories manage to intersect not only physically, but also thematically. Films like Crash show the great overlap within people, especially people whom we think we have no connection to. Literature and art builds upon itself in many diverse and unique ways. While I cannot say with any certainty that films like Crash or Love Actually found their origins in the eighteenth century “it” narratives, I do see the strong connection between these two story types and think look at our contemporary works with this eighteenth century framework proves very interesting.

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