The Secret History, Donna Tart: Prologue Analysis

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How does the prologue of The Secret History prepare the reader for the remainder of the text?

The prologue, as in many works of literature, is used as a way of gripping the reader – making one enthralled in the text, introducing themes that reoccur throughout the text (for example the narrator’s journey in this particular novel), along with characters, and the style of writing used.

Within the first few lines of the prologue, we learn that ‘Bunny’ is dead, yet we are not told exactly who he is or why he was killed, which adds to the tension that builds up until the inevitable death of the character. Because the death is mentioned in the prologue, the reader progresses through the text bearing the chilling knowledge that this character that we as a reader become accustomed to is bound to die. This does in fact add to the overwhelming sense of fate that is forever present during the novel. We are told of “Henry’s modest plan”[1], which introduces the character of Henry as being probably a character that the others look up to and acknowledge as being their leader. To say that the plan was ‘modest’ comments on the narrator’s morality, giving one the impression that they didn’t think highly of Bunny enough to make a more reasonable alternative to his murder. The narrator himself does not seem so much resentful of the incident, as tormented by it. His mind is occupied by the events, yet he does not feel emotion for the death of Bunny – only sympathy for his own involvement. From this we can sense that the writing will be seen through a troubled perspective that will be biased and unjust at times.

The writing style uses a lot of pathetic fallacy which is common in gothic thriller novels, for example, R.L. Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde, which uses the weather at numerous places throughout to set the mood and atmosphere that will represent the action in the coming chapter. The setting of the prologue is described in a vivid way giving the narrator’s memories a sort...
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