In chapter’s thirteen and fourteen of the novel, Joe’s visit to Oxford to visit Mrs Logan, widow of John Logan is of great significance to the story as a whole. It introduces different ideas to the main plot and provides an interruption to the key subject at that stage; the Joe and Jed situation. It also gives an insight into John Logan’s life before he died and his background. The main themes in the novel are also highlighted in these chapters, including the idea of forgiveness, morality and trust.
The most obvious reasoning for McEwan including Joe’s visit to Jean Logan is to provide the background of John’s character to the novel. The event introduces the reader to John’s life before his death at the balloon accident, ‘Partly obscured by shrubbery was a tent, a brown igloo-style tent on a patch of law’, which indicates to the reader he had children. McEwan also uses Joe to provide details of John’s lifestyle with descriptions of his house, describing ‘two chairs’ of ‘forties design, with high wooden arm rests and low slung boxy seats’ which enable the reader to draw conclusions about his character, like for example a man of old fashioned habits.
The two chapters also reveal to the reader Jean Logan’s suspicions of his affair before his death. In many respects it keeps the reader involved with the novel as they learn of a twist to the plot. The way in which McEwan informs the reader of Jean’s doubts is very cleverly done, with Joe misinterpreting Jeans bitterness for grief, ‘It was difficult to see her beyond the terms of bereavement’, and Joe’s gradual understanding of what Jean is really feeling. McEwan also uses irony to display Jeans bitterness when she sarcastically tells Joe of what the police officer told her ‘A crime! There hadn’t been a crime’, where obviously in her eyes there had been a crime; of adultery. However at this point Joe does not comprehend the meaning of her sarcasm. McEwan’s use of language also introduces a simile using pathetic fallacy to reflect Jean’s mood from Joe’s perspective, ‘like a lone Arctic Explorer’, this allows Joe to portray what he believes is Jean’s pitiful state of mind at the time, and to reflect her grief through the language used. There is a great build-up to when Jean actually tells Joe of her suspicions; ‘He was going to have a picnic with her’ which makes the revelation much more dramatic when it finally happens.
This section of the novel is also an ideal interruption to the intensity of the current circumstances between Joe and Jed, which may start to be boring for the reader. It allows the reader to be informed of the surrounding events aside the main plot concerning Parry.
As McEwan introduces the reader to John Logan’s background and wife; Jean, it also allows the reader to draw comparisons of their married relationship with that of Joe and Clarissa’s. It appears Joe himself questions his relationship with Clarissa as a result of Jean’s revelation of her suspicions, ‘Imagining what it would mean, to lose Clarissa through death or by my own stupidity’, and suggests Joe means to do something in order to resolve the previous arguments. As a result giving the reader an insight into Joe’s thoughts about the consequences of the events with Parry and how a possible affair would have an impact on their relationship in terms of John’s affair, ‘She would have to know everything and suffer for it’.
However the most significant of all ideas to McEwans use of Joe’s visit to Oxford is perhaps to highlight some of the main themes of the novel. John Logan’s children are of great importance in terms of exhibiting the idea morality. One of the best examples of this is their questioning of whether it is right or wrong to eat horses; ‘But if something’s wrong, I don’t see why crossing the channel should make it right’ which demonstrates the importance of innocence in children. This event also enables the reader to reflect on morals in connection with Joe and the initial accident with the balloon where he questioned himself concerning whether he should have continued holding on to the rope. Not only do the children highlight the issue of morality but also the ongoing idea of Clarissa being unable to have children of her own. It seems that Joe’s references to John’s children in relation to his situation of not being able to have children, ‘Clarissa sometimes told me that I would have made a wonderful father’ suggests that Joe is troubled by his circumstances, and they do have an impact on their relationship.
Another of the primary themes that are portrayed through this part of the novel is the idea of trust. There is a significant connection in how Jean ‘jumps to conclusions’ with the idea of John’s affair and how previously Joe was questioning whether Clarissa was having an affair. It gives a comparison between the two and illustrates the concept of trust and its effect on the people involved, ‘I’ve never used rose-water in my life, I found it on the passenger seat.’ In this case it reflects Jeans constant questions and inability to know the truth because of the fact she no longer trusted John.
Finally a more subtle importance of these chapters is the inclusion of de Clerambault syndrome. Joe relates this idea to his scientific career, and addresses the syndrome as ‘a framework of prediction’. This closely reflects Joe’s recognition of the current situation with Jed and how he believes he can predict what Parry will do next and what proves to be ‘of comfort’ to him. However it also leads the reader to believe Joe is predicting to the extent of being paranoid and again makes the reader question the narrators reliability in terms of being a rational narrator.
Overall I believe the two chapters to be of great importance to the novel as a whole, due to the range of ideas they introduce to the novel, especially that of the themes which they approach more directly than in other chapters.