Comfort of Strangers Commentary

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IB SL English 2

Commentary on The Comfort of Strangers

In one part of the novel, The Comfort of Strangers, the English writer Ian McEwan describes the admiration with which his male character, Robert, contemplates his sisters playing dress up. Though the speaker’s age is never divulged, we readily jump to the conclusion that he is around ten years old because of the childish and rudimentary language. The structure of the sentences is also very reflective of the child’s young age, as well as of his seemingly cold relation with his family members, in particular his father. In fact, even the clear-cut and regimented structure of the passage, which consists of three paragraphs where each represents a period of the day, is suggestive of the latter. The pertinent and detailed descriptions set forth by the speaker bring us to question the legitimacy of his relationship with his sisters.

The first paragraph captures the girls, Eva and Maria, looking through their mother’s dressing-table for cosmetics and womanly clothing, while the speaker sits on the bed, watching them play dress up. The speaker mysteriously starts off his narration with “So! Do my sisters hate me?” (McEwan, 1). McEwan already gives us a glimpse of the strange relationship between the characters. Adapting a happier tone, the speaker then describes his exciting afternoon with his two sisters. As of the third line, we feel like there is more affinity between the girls than there is between them and the speaker. The boy simply sits on the bed and enviously watches his sisters give themselves a makeover: “They put creams and powders on their faces, they used lipstick, they pulled hairs from their eyebrows and brushed mascara on their lashes” (McEwan, 4-6). The speaker refers to his sisters using the pronoun “they”, suggesting that he feels left out. This further adds on to the idea that the speaker is watching his sisters from an outsider’s perspective, hinting at the faintly sexual ambiance that...
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