How does McEwan depict the breakdown in Joe and Clarissa’s relationship in the middle section of the novel?
McEwan initially portrays Clarissa and Joe as the ideal couple, capturing the seemingly stable love affair between two academics. However, McEwan seeks to explore the disintegration of the ‘superior’ middle-class romance, to emphasise how nothing is safe.
To the unknowing reader, everything about the relationship is calm and admirable. Yet difficulties begin to surface early in the novel. The reader learns how Clarissa is unable to bear children; something which the reader can see is hidden from daily life, but obviously has a profound effect on the relationship.
To add to this, Joe is unhappy about his status in the scientific community. He feels his work as a lecturer is not enough, and this causes his self-worth to diminish over time. Joe longs for a perfect life, with a perfect career and for his interests to be satisfied. Everything down to the expensive wine at the picnic suggests Joe seeks perfection. Similarly, Clarissa also seeks perfection but instead, strives for the ideal romance, idealised by her literary idol, John Keats.
McEwan focuses on a breakdown of communication throughout the middle section of the novel. Any conversations between the couple are brief and rushed, without consideration for the other’s words. Chapter 9 is significant for the development of Joe and Clarissa’s relationships collapse as the reader is invited to witness the events from Clarissa’s perspective. Through McEwan’s technique, the reader can view the hardships of Clarissa’s day, to recognise the daily stresses of her personal and professional life. We see Clarissa’s confusion at Joe’s apparent manic state, the communication issues, ‘All this talking and listening that’s supposed to be good for couples’. Joe simply cannot leave Clarissa alone; he is dependent on her for mental support and he fails to recognise when she needs time to herself. Throughout...
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