The Present and the Past Self in Innovative Life Writing: Second-Person Narration in Mary Karr’s Cherry

Investor logo


Year of publication 2022
Type Appeared in Conference without Proceedings
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Arts

Description Combining narrative theory with life writing studies, this paper will discuss experimental methods of representing the perceived relationship between the present and the past self, or the narrating and the narrated “I” of autobiographical discourse. The first part of the paper will introduce diverse narrative strategies observed in published life writing, which writers employ to express various attitudes towards the narrated past and towards their earlier incarnations. For example, some narratives emphasize the distance of the narrating self from the narrated self by flaunting the narrator’s current wisdom and making the character in the past the target of irony. Other narratives might underline the sense of continuity in attempting to recreate the past as it was lived rather than from the vantage point of the present. The techniques that work towards such effects include figural perspective (internal focalization), historical present tense, and the use of third-person and second-person narration as well as switching between different pronouns. However, there is no one-to-one correspondence between a technique and an effect. The second part of the paper will zoom in on second-person narration in life writing. Drawing on narratological research into second-person narration in fiction, such as typologies of you-narratives or discussions of the potential corelation of you-narration with readerly involvement, I will briefly discuss examples of auto/biographical texts employing the second person pronoun for various purposes (e.g., you referring to another character; to the autobiographical subject; to the reader). I will then analyse Mary Karr’s Cherry (2000) with regard to its representation of the present and past self. This narrative uses the second person primarily to refer to the autobiographical protagonist in the past and combines this technique with figural perspective and the historical present tense to recreate the author’s adolescent identity search as well as to enhance the reader’s immersion and emotional involvement.
Related projects:

You are running an old browser version. We recommend updating your browser to its latest version.