Within both stories the writers use unreliable diegetic narrators to present societal

Within both stories, the writers use unreliable diegetic narrators to present societal issues regarding social class, the pursuit of wealth and idealism. Both writers use their narrators to portray the damage that can occur through the desire for self-definition, that in fact can last a life time and can never be overcome. Nick, within The Great Gatsby, is vital in illustrating the fragility of idealism for the protagonist, Jay Gatsby, in his search for his beloved Daisy which corresponds with his pursuit of the American Dream. The frailty of idealism is presented through Nick’s comment that Gatsby pays a ‘high price for living too long with a single dream’. It’s unclear from Nick’s language whether Gatsby himself understands this, since Nick’s conditional phrases such as ‘perhaps’ and ‘if’ along with the modal auxiliary verb ‘must’ indicate how far even he is speculating about Gatsby’s real feelings and motivations, which often remain indefinable. Yet Nick is able to influence Gatsby and the reader; therefore, giving him the ability to be able to interfere and intrude upon the story. As the story is presented through Nick and Nick alone through a ‘single window’, it gives him the capability to present a mistrustful version of events to the reader, underlying his unreliability from the outset. However, within Atonement, the themes of everlasting regret and guilt are essential when presenting the catastrophic damage desire for status and appreciation can have. McEwan is able to enforce this through Briony’s character, through her efforts to seek an atonement; by which she hopes that her work of fiction will allow her to confess and make up for the wrong she has done. Wood expresses: ‘She could not resist the chance to spare the young lovers, to continue their lives in fiction, to give the story a happy ending.’ ; implying her desire for change. McEwan has structured the narrative, so at times we see events through future eyes. The younger Briony, watching Robbie and Cecilia at the fountain, says that Robbie ‘imperiously’ raised his hand. Yet, this is how it appeared to the young Briony, however, the older Briony knows it was not an ‘imperious’ gesture; through her having the experience to understand the complex relationships adults uphold. McEwan addresses the progression to adulthood and the challenges this has in the reliability in recounting events. In the case of The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald gives great purpose to Nick, as both narrator and participant. We are meant to imagine that Nick reports all the events he sees, and information told is stored away and never retracted: ‘No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his heart’, implying that Nick will always deliver information not dependent on the situation or possible impacts, good or bad, seen through the alliteration of ‘fire or freshness’. This could possibly suggest him to be a reliable narrator; however, it can be debated through his distorted recall of events dependent on who is listening. Yet, Perkins interpretation of Nick is able to suggest that he gives the reader the greatest insight possible into the story and its characters, supporting the concept of Nick reporting information to he reader. In contrast, McEwan does not let Briony reveal herself as the ultimate narrator until the very end of the book. This forces us into a re-evaluation of all we have read up to this point because we appear to have heard several voices describing events from distinct points of view. By doing so, the writer does not only give the reader an easy access to the character and the event itself, but also enhances the sense of ambiguity and uncertainty. As seen within the fountain scene Briony misinterprets it as a blackmail and threat, constructing it into a melodrama, yet she understands she must ‘just watch’. Briony believed that Robbie had some kind of power over Cecilia; her interpretation came from her knowledge from the Victoria era that men were superior to women. Whereas, both Cecilia and Robbie reflect on the event finally, making it remerge according to their wish. Through Nick being unable to relate and interact with the other characters emotionally or physically; Fitzgerald describes Nick to have a ‘ghostly heart’, one in which he stores information, suggesting Nick’s lack of empathy regarding the other characters in the story. Whereas McEwan portrays a scepticism regarding Briony: ‘she regretted not providing herself with a store of raw material’, suggesting that the character of Briony doesn’t have the evidence needed in order to portray a reliable account for the reader. McEwan also creates a contrast between the characters, Briony and Robbie, as Briony wants to get as close to the war as she can, and announce her sin to the world; as she knows it is ‘necessary to stay away’ from her family while she undergoes her self-inflicted punishment and gains her ‘independence’. Whereas, Robbie wants to escape the war and clear his name. McEwan is perhaps educating the reader that Briony’s efforts as nurse were to somehow make up for what she did to Robbie. But just like the physical wounds she is meant to treat on a daily basis, she can never undo the damage. Regardless of how well she can help it heal, the scar of what will always be unforgiven will never heal. McEwan constructs Briony to be seen with an emotional engagement but having an absence of morality – she is only treating others to repay for her wrongful accusations. Her emotions and experiences are all ‘raw’, she wishes to be able to appear reliable yet lacks any sense of responsibility for the reader to engage with.

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