ISU Journal: Characters
“The Question” by Austin Clarke, is a story of a miserable unnamed narrator and his pain filled life. This novel is about a man with all the answers, but does not know the question. It’s about a man who misses the obvious and who fails to heed hints and warnings. It’s about a man who is never present and who chooses to abandon life. It’s about a man who prefers fantasy over reality, escaping through the memories to a haven of a simpler time. It’s about a man who, when his fantasy world is interrupted by marriage, self destructs.
The unnamed narrator is a judge at a Refugee Board in Toronto. He is originally from Barbados but moved to Canada to start a new life. His parents are both dead, the rest of his family still resides in Barbados and he lives alone. In the beginning of the novel, the unnamed narrator is sitting on a deck at party with a woman. This unnamed woman and he begin a conversation that will change both their lives. As their words build a maze of intimacy, that man finds himself drawn into the memories of his childhood in Barbados, and to reflections on his life in Toronto. As the conversation hurtles forward, he gradually falls in love with the woman, “I am beginning to fall in love with this woman” (68). For the first time, the man feels as though he has just started to live. He feels reborn.
In the middle of the novel, the narrator and woman get married and live together in an apartment in Toronto. As their relationship progresses, he finds himself in a strange triangle of affections involving him, his wife and her best friend named Reens. His job of listening to gruesome and despicable of stories of torture and rape from refugees begins to take a toll on his mental health. This results negatively in his decision making and intimacy. Instead of feeling happy and no longer lonely, he starts to get angry at his wife because of her lack of attention towards him and the excess of attention given to her best friend Reens: “Suppose that, in my mind, and through my anger, I have transferred suspicion to fact and sight, and have placed those two innocent women guilty only of loving each other, like sisters, into this fantasy of infidelity that bears a different name?” (228). Evidently, this idea begins to haunt him and he starts to feel neglected.
He continues to keep all of his problems bottled up inside him until he explodes. When events escalate and the narrator’s thoughts become dangerous, he has an epiphany. He had thoughts of destroying his apartment, murdering his wife and killing himself, but decides against it. I believe he decided not to do it because he did not want to be alone anymore: “And suddenly this freedom, this independence of being alone, of being sovereign overcomes me. I want to be home. I want to be with my wife. And I want to be with Auntie Reens. I want to be with the dog” (239). Evidently, he does appreciate what he has and he comes to the realization that it’s worth living for. The conclusion of the novel left many questions unanswered and the protagonist learns little about himself. Clarke left much to my imagination and left much to be desired.
ISU Journal: Setting
“The Question” by Austin Clarke is set in Toronto in the late 90’s. The unnamed narrator was born in Barbados and has many flashbacks of his childhood there throughout the novel, as he reflects on his life in Toronto. Austin Clarke was born in Barbados and now resides in Toronto and this is why I believe his choice of setting was very personal and sentimental.
I believe the setting in Toronto that Clarke used was highly effective. Toronto is a very multicultural city. Toronto is a new land with a different culture than the one in Barbados. This allowed the narrator to reflect on the differences between them and what he thinks about both of these places. “But birthday parties that I have attended back in the island were...