This chapter is a crucial point in the book and marks a major turning point of the protagonist’s life. In this essay I will discuss McEwan’s use of structure, plot, themes, language and characterization.
In this chapter the structure is relatively simple, yet effective, as it is written in the past tense; it allows for Joe to add his retrospective opinion. Opening with Joe driving down the motorway, describing his negative frame of mind, he tells the reader of what he did earlier that morning that has left him with his “old restlessness” feeling, and then once returns to Joe’s present time, as he arrives at Mrs Logan’s House.
The plot progresses due to the consequences of Joe’s actions. Joe has searched Clarissa’s letters, persuading himself to believe that somebody is making Clarissa have a biased view of Joe’s situation with Jed Parry. We are told of “the fine crack estrangement that had appeared between Clarissa and me”. This has left McEwan with an area to develop the plot.
The primary theme in this chapter is around relationships: Joe’s relationship with Clarissa and Jed’s relationship with Joe. Joe is feeling as though he is a “failure in science”. He is not sure whether it was “brought on afresh by Logan’s fall, or the Parry situation, or by the fine crack of estrangement” between him and Clarissa. To the reader it is apparent that it isn’t Logan’s fall, as this hasn’t been mentioned for some time. Strangely, Joe does not connect the “Parry situation” with the ever-widening rift between himself and Clarissa. Joe tells us “I had not had much better luck with Clarissa. It was true we were talking, we were affable”. The adjective, ‘affable’ tells the reader that they are not perhaps as close as you would expect a married couple to be. The trust between Joe and Clarissa has broken down; Joe describes Clarissa as having “seemed to agree with me”. ‘Seemed’ implies that Joe no longer trusts Clarissa fully, and then Clarissa tells Joe that Jed’s writing is “rather like yours”. Perhaps she is merely commenting on a similarity, or perhaps she in return is suspicious of Joe.
Joe describes feeling as though “there remained an unarticulated dispute” between himself and Clarissa. From an objective view it appears that neither Clarissa nor Joe are communicating properly. Indeed, Joe realizes himself that they are “losing the trick of keeping it going”. Perhaps these references to Joe’s unhappiness reflect the new direction their relationship is taking. Joe is under the impression that “Clarissa considered Parry my fault”. This shows that Clarissa and Joe no longer have faith in each other. McEwan uses questions to show Joe’s doubt. “What was the explanation? Was she beginning to regret her life with me? Could she have met someone?” In a relationship built on trust these are not the sorts of questions that partners should think about. Joe, in his suspicious state of mind, goes and searches Clarissa’s desk. He sees it as a “painful necessity” and describes it as being “coarsening”. Joe is invading Clarissa’s private and personal space. Perhaps this is the mark of the relationship, where Joe’s trust has finally worn so thin that he needs to justify himself. He describes his actions as an “attack on Clarissa’s privacy”.
Once again McEwan uses emotive language. “The mighty onward rush” is used to describe how fast he is travelling. Joe is most likely speeding to keep his mind off his mornings endeavour. In fact, he tells us “the general demand on concentration was calming and granted the illusion of purification”. This is a very vivid description of the way in which driving makes Joe feel. The next piece of descriptive writing sees Joe refer to Jed’s letter as “so steamily self convinced, such an unfaked narrative of emotion”. This gives us a little insight into Jed’s state of mind. Joe now goes on to describe the relationship as being “an elaborate construct a finely balanced artifice, like an ancient carriage clock”. This is very powerful imagery and it gives the impression of something very delicate, possibly reflective of the situation their relationship is in. As Joe searches the Clarissa’s drawers, McEwan describes his feelings: “each successive act, each moment of deeper penetration was coarsening”. Joe knows what he is doing is wrong, and McEwan uses very this very definitive language. Perhaps this is also a double meaning on the words penetration and coarsening echoing Joe’s previous revelations on their sex: “as though there lay between our mucous membranes a fine dust or grit, as tangible as beach sand”. Immediately after the incident, Joe describes “a parallel development, the death of an innocent dream” The ‘death of an innocent dream’ is perhaps symbolic as the death of Joe and Clarissa’s relationship.
This chapter has very few revelations about characters, except perhaps the change of Joe from being a rationalist to being an unstable wreck. We also learn that Clarissa has no secret correspondence as Joe suspected. Another very small revelation is about Jed’s character: we are told that in the space of a week, he has already sent more than one letter. ” A couple of days after Parry’s letter arrived, his first letter that is”. This shows us about the persistence of Jed.
In my opinion this chapter is a build-up for a major stage in the plot. It represents the starting point in the break down of Joe and Clarissa’s relationship. On top of that, the arrival of Joe at Mrs Logan’s house will undoubtedly have some consequence in the plot. Once again McEwan uses vivid descriptions to captivate and ensnare the reader while giving us insights into Joe’s state of mind.