Enduring love is a novel, which explores many aspects of the human life and mind, some being: love, different perspectives, science and the human urge for story telling. These concepts are noticeably different and range for one extreme where feelings and emotions from the heart will take control to the other extreme where only facts and knowledge from the brain are used. This makes it an appealing novel to most audiences whether they are emotive or scientific. However which one is the most important?
Firstly when exploring the theme of story telling it is noticeable that it is introduced to the reader right from the start. The ballooning accident is re-told to the reader by Joe Rose in a form of a flashback. The opening line, “The beginning is simple to mark,” prepares the reader for the story about to be retold. It also makes them completely aware of a narrator who holds complete control over the plot.
However this is simply the introduction to this theme as McEwan gently introduces it to the reader. Further on in the chapter three the deeper meaning of the story telling theme is portrayed.
Joe and Clarissa arrive home after the traumatic experience of the accident and they retell each other their own personal narratives, the main purpose of this being so that they can gain some sort of explanation as they are confused by the whole event- “…how do we make sense of this?” Clarissa asks Joe at one point. All forms of narrative reach a point where issues are resolved and there is some form of closure achieved. This is what the couple are searching for.
“There was so much repetition that evening of the incident.”
Clarissa and Joe are looking for the problem to be solved and the answers to their questions. However they struggle with this hence the need for the repetition. They keep going over the accident again and again in detail to try to search for the solution.
The metaphor of the “craftsmen at work, grinding the jagged edge of memories, hammering the unspeakable into forms of words, threading single perceptions into narrative,” also shows how they are struggling with the physical effort of piecing the parts of the story together in order to gain sense of it just like how a craftsman would hammer the parts of a construction together. The words “grinding” and “hammering” shows how the couple are breaking the story up into manageable pieces the placing it back together in a different form. Craftsmen are very dedicated and pay good attention to detail so by comparing the couple to them shows the amount of detail they are going into and just how desperate they are to come to the closure which makes sense and that all stories have.
The couple use the form of the narrative as a sense of release and even like a form of medication that needs to be taken as they keep retelling the story over and over again. They retell it to such an extent that they become more wrapped up in the actually structure and form of the story.
“It became possible to recount the events, without even re-living them in the faintest degree.”
The story becomes a separate thing in itself making them able to detach themselves through the actually storytelling and without the pain and memories. This is their form of the solution to the problem they have with the feelings of pain and guilt.
However this form of medication as it were becomes out of control when Joe goes to meet a radio producer.
“I couldn’t help myself. I had to be saying it to someone.”
Joe loses control of his brain and body and suddenly tells a completely stranger of his ordeal with the ballooning accident and of Jed. This also shows that he may have even become obsessed with the stalking at one stage.
However it may just be due to the human urge to tell stories in order to share emotions. The reader would get this impression when the couple are retelling the story for the first time. They break from the storytelling but Clarissa cannot hold the peace and so she cries out ” But oh God when he fell!” and Joes stands up “hurriedly to reach for a bottle of Beaujolais from the rack.” I believe this could covey an image of excitement especially in Clarissa’s tone of voice and how Joe rushes to get a bottle of wine. They like the drama of it all and they are making a bigger thing out of it especially by drinking wine, which suggests they are turning it into an occasion. They are making a drama out of their terror for comfort.
The idea of a narrative being able to make sense of a situation is also shown through the concept of the importance of literature in science. Joe describes many scientists as using anecdotes and narratives to explain their scientific theories.
“Using the highest methods of storytelling…
Freud had staked his claim on the veracity…”
Freud was one of the greatest thinkers of the 21st century but he used storytelling through his case studies. This shows that a wide range of people need narratives in order to express themselves. Science was used to make sense of the world but literature invaded this and became the “the dominant artistic form”
“The theory was already in the textbooks… its integral power …was to beautiful to resist.”
Science without the narrative is too hard-edge and cold but narrative gives it its beauty, which makes it attractive. Science without narrative was too difficult and meaningless.
However Joe contradicts himself as he also gives the impression that the anecdote is nonsense and not useful when reading a scientific piece on a dog.
“What I liked here was how the power and attractions of narrative had clouded the judgement.
By any standards of scientific enquiry… the story was nonsense.”
Joe is saying that the narrative can disguise the nonsense of a theory by turning it into a charming story and is almost degrading to science. However he does accept the power in which literature and narratives have over science.
Joe set out in his argument to prove that nineteenth century science can be distinguished from twentieth century science by the fact that the earlier science relied on story telling. But Joe does become less and less confident about this theory.
“My examples were fabulously skewed”
This implies that the narrative is always going to have existence and be the most important than science and the neat separation of narrative from twentieth century science doesn’t work. So this shows that he and the novel belong to the particular time when everything was communicated through a story for clear understanding.
However this novel does not show a clear understanding of love instead it portrays in many interpretations. McEwan teaches us that love is a combination of egotistic, altruistic and irrational behaviour. Love is shown through Joe and Clarissa caught up in their own needs and do not tend to each others. Irrationalism is shown when Jed tells Joe that he loves him without even knowing Joe. But most importantly it is shown to be altruistic when all the men run to help the balloon even if it means risking their owns life’s for another being.
During the start of the story main focus of the love theme is on Joe and his wife Clarissa. In the early stages of the story Joe describes the relationship as seeming perfect with the descriptions of the love letters Clarissa had sent him.
“…passionately abstract in their exploration of the ways in which our love was different from and superior to any that had existed.”
However Jed soon destroys this and the start of this is shown when Joe keeps the phone call from Jed a secret from Clarissa. This is the beginning of their isolation from each other which is bad as everyone need to feel the connection of someone else and as John Donne put it in 1624, ‘no man is an island’ and Milton wrote that while God is self sufficient ‘not so is man’ who ‘requires collateral love…’
Joe and Clarissa’s love is a main theme for Enduring Love as the reader sees how their love drifts apart as Jed’s love becomes more intense.
Jed’s perspective on love is both delusional and obsessional. From the moment of his first encounter with Joe he is sure that he is in love with Joe. This love is a complete contrast to Clarissa’s love for Joe that give the emphasis on the obsession in which Jed develops later on in the story.
McEwan chose to write Enduring Love in the form of the first person narrator, which gives a limited perspective on things and the reader has to put all of their trust into Joe as they have to believe in the story he is telling.
In conclusion I believe the most important theme in chapters one to five is the story making. This is because it helps the reader to see the whole extent in which the accident has affected Joe and Clarissa especially in the way they cling to the narrative for comfort and almost become addicted to it as Joe loses control. The story making is a representation of their emotions. Even though love could be seen as the most important theme I think it is only important in relation to the story as a whole not just the beginning as the reader as yet to see the development of Jed’s love and the way it ruins the couple’s relationship. The story making theme is introduced from the opening and appears all the way through chapters one to five, which shows that McEwan wants to keep bringing it up due to its importance.