English Literature AS
10 February 2010
‘They were young…’ to ‘…now forgive’ pages 3-6
How does McEwan establish the genre of tragedy in this extract? In relation to the rest of the novel, how typical are the tragic features used here?
When thinking of a tragic novel or play, you may think of the great Greek tragedies. You may think of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. You may even think of a more modern play such as Death of a Salesman or Hardy’s Novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles. All of these end, as has become the custom for tragedy, with the death of their tragic heroes. Ian McEwan manages to instill in us the same empathetic and, eventually, sorrowful emotions about a topic so meager and shallow as a night of failed passion, as is felt in most tragedies. How does he establish this?
Even from the opening sentence we are able to make the presumption that all is not to go well “on this their wedding night.” McEwan’s sets his novel “in a time when conversation about sexual difficulties was plainly impossible.” It is from this one line that, when the event finally occurs, we are nearly certain that, however avant-garde Florence and Edward may be both politically and socially, they will find it impossible to confront their problem head on. By placing it in a time, as Phillip Larkin puts it, a time “between the end of the chatterly ban and the Beatles’ first LP” any modern reader would be almost completely out of their depth concerning views towards sex. The thought of there still being a brick wall between husband and wife concerning the discussion of sex in 1962, when just a few years later rampant recreational drug use and casual sex would become the norm.
A major theme throughout the book is the difference in class between Edward and Florence. He lives in his “squalid family home in Chiltern Hills” and she in “a big Victorian villa in the gothic style, just off the Banbury Road.” This difference is expressed right from the very start with...
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