The Narrative Level: Problems in the Satanic Verse and the Invisible Man

Finally, it finished. IT was the first assignment I got when I arrived in campus. And I still working for another assignment. Hope be able to finish it ASAP.

What kind of idea
does ‘Submission’ seem today?
One full of fear.
An idea that runs away (Rusdie, 126).

Many Muslim had cursed Rusdie’s The Satanic Verse and led to ban the book especially in India, Egypt, Pakistan, Bangladesh, South Africa, and even Indonesia. However, most of them did not read the book. What most crucial was a fatwa which declared by Ayatollah Rushollah Khomeini in February 1989. The fatwa was the call to murder Rushdie which resulted the United Kingdom severed its diplomatic relations with Iran to successfully hide Rushdie. Therefore, the impact of the novel was so great that could influence the international relations between England and Iran. The same thing also happened to The Invisible Man. The Invisible was scandalous so that it was confronted by militants as reactionary and banned from school because of its explicit portrayals of black life.

Perhaps, what really my lecturer want to see in this essay was how the narrator works in both of the novel. I probably could find them out, by giving two general questions, “Who sees?” and “Who speaks?” Ellison’s The Invisible Man told about a man who lived off the society, in a warm hole in the ground, hiding in anticipation of future direct. Differ from Rushdie’s The Satanic Verse, The Invisible Man consisted of twenty- five chapter which started by a prolog and ended by an epilogue. In TIM, the one who sees and speaks was I. It was interesting when the narrator tried to introduce himself in the prologue.
I am an Invisible man… I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me… I am not complaining, nor am I protesting either. It is sometimes advantageous to be unseen, although it is most often rather wearing on the nerves (Ellison, 1970:7).

TIM’s prologues directly went into character (fixed focalization). The focalization was still I till the end of the story. Starting from the prologue, the first and second paragraph of TIM were in present tense. When it came to third paragraph, the tense changed into past. In present, the narrator tried to communicate with the reader or the audience. I fell it was like monologue to define himself. The narrator started using pronoun “you” as if pointing the reader, “[t]hen too, you’re constantly being bumped against by those of poor vision…” (Ellison, 1970:7). After that, the tense changed into past. In past, the narrator told about his experience. In the other words, he told another story. He killed a man. And, based on him, “the man had not seen [him], actually; that he, as far as he knew, was in midst of a walking nightmare (Ellison, 1970: 8). Probably, that was the idea why he called himself the invisible man. This past, therefore, used to emphasize his invisibility.

However, the different thing happened in Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. There were two alterations. Firstly, same as TIM, the tense changed from present to past in next paragraph. The first paragraph in introduction told about the world in general. In Gennete term, it was called as zero focalization. “Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically… We’ve got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen” (Lawrence in Adipurwawidjana, 2005: 59). It was the second. The focalization change from zero focalization into fixed focalization in next paragraph followed by the changing of tense. “This was more or less Constance hatterley’s position.” In this context, there was a shift from general into particular to the main character in the novel. Moreover, Adipurwawidjana stated that both of the shifts (tense and focalization) showed that Lawrence tried to differentiate the narrative level outside the world of Lady Chatterley, Clifford, and other characters in the novel (2005: 60). Therefore, the same thing happened to TIM although the focalization did not change. Ellison tried to differentiate the narrative level as well. Or probably not.

However, the things was going really different in chapter I. In the first paragraph, we could find present and past tense together.

IT goes a long way back, some twenty years. All my life I had been looking for something, and everywhere I turned someone tried to tell me what it was. I accepted their answer too, though they were often in contradiction and even self-contradictory… That I am nobody but myself. But first I had to discover that I am an invisible man! (Ellison, 1970:17).

The narrator in this state was still aware of himself. He told his past while describing himself in present. He “had been looking for something” and “turned someone tried to tell [him] what it was. Then, in the end, the narrator went back to present, telling himself, he “[is] an invisible man.” And by mixing it up, it created sense of confusion, especially when you imagined it as a movie. I remember Nolan’s Inception in 2010. Unfortunately, we did not have to worry. Start from the third paragraph till the end (before epilogue), the narrator used the past tense. Some sentences was in present. Finally, he told his history for being invisible. Hereafter, the only words in present formed in direct speech. It was like the narrator stated, “the real story was about to begin” although in the third chapter we could find the same pattern as the previous chapter.

These form was similar with the narrator in Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. In the first chapter, Januari 1999: Rocket Summer, the focalization was zero. It told about the general situation in Ohio when a rocket blown out to Mars. Therefore, it functioned as a prologue.

One minute it was Ohio winter, with doors closed, windows locked, the panes blind with frost, icicles fringing every rood, children skiing on slopes, housewives lumbering like great black bears in their furs along the icy streets… Rocket Summer. People leaned from their dripping porches and watched the reddening sky… The rocket lay on the launching field, blowing out pink clouds of fire and oven heat. The rocket stood in the cold winter morning, making summer with every breath of its mighty exhausts. The rocket made climates, and summer lay for a brief moment upon the land… (Bradbury, 2012: 1).

However, when I moved into the next chapter, February 1999: Ylla, the focalization became fixed to Ylla, a Martian female. The story shifted from general to particular. She dreamed that Nathaniel York and his group from a planet called earth would come to his planet, Mars. However, the tense was still past, even until the end of the novel as well as TSV. When I opened the next chapter, August 1999: The Summer Night, the focalization change into zero. The narrator described the condition of Mars after the first expedition. Mars “was quiet in the deep morning… as quiet as a cool and black well, with star shining in the canal waters, and, breathing in every room…” (Bradbury, 2012: 20). The pattern was same in the next chapter, August 1999: The Earth Men. The focalization was fixed to the main character, the captain of second expedition.

Similar with TMC, TSV has ambiguous pattern in many ways. TSV told about two main characters which were Gibreel Farisha and Saladin Chamcha. The story was divided by three main plotlines. The first of them was the surviving of Gibreel and Saladin from a plane crash while the second and third of them were the dreams which Gibreel had after the crash. The second dream focused on a character named Mahound whom most critics believed refer to Muhammad. The third dream told about another prophet named Ayesha. Differ from The Satanic Verse. The narrator who was in third person known everything. He did not the main character, though. However, he stuck in the main character called Gibreel Farishta. The ambiguous of text shown in its tenses. Usually, present tense would be used to describe reality and the event that exist in the present while past tense would be used to describe past and something unreal. Both the narrators in TMC and TSV used past tense entirely. The shift of narrative time from present to past happened when the narrator told about story in Jahilia. Because the tense was still past and did not change to past perfect tense (to show the story in Jahilia was more unreal than the story of Gibreel), the shift of narrative became vanished and disappeared which created, again, the ambiguous of narrative. Consequently, the story of Ayesha had the same timeline as the story of Mahound because the border between them was unclear. If the narrator did not generated the chapters, probably, it would be hard to border the narrative timeline between Gibreel Farisha’s story and his dreams.

The ambiguous of text was shown in its chapter. The distribution of the chapter, which the outside framework of the novel, was set intentionally to mix the main and dream stories of Gibreel Farisha. Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses consisted of nine chapters, The Angel Gibreel, Mahound, Ellowen Deeowen, Ayesha, A City Visible but Unseen, Return to Jahilia, The Angel Azraeel, The Parting of the Arabian Seas, and A Wonderful Lamp. From those, five chapters was real. They were The Angel Gibreel, Elloween Deeowen, A City Visible but Unseen, The Angel Azraeel, and The parting of the Arabian Seas. The rest happened in Gibreel’s dream. From the structure we could see, the narrator set the first chapter real and the second was unreal. The third was real and the fourth was unreal. The pattern was same until it closed by the ninth chapter. These pattern therefore, created a fuzziness between dream and reality in the life of Gibreel Farisha. In other words, it created an ambiguous space which muddled up fiction and fact. Adipurwawidjana followed by calling it as analepsis homodiegetic. The story of Jahilia had chosen because it was usual and like history. In the same time, both of the stories, Jahilia and Gibreel, implied a comparison between present and past, which was euphoric and painful at the same time (Gennete in Adipurwawidjana, 2005: 64). These patterns were similar in TIM in which the narrator told his past in entire chapters. It was a little bit different, though. The past was more than the present so that the past looked like the prior story. It was also analepsis because it happened before the prior story. However, analepsis in TIM was not too far. It still happened inside the temporal realm of the prior story. In other words, it created the reversal effect than what happen in TSV. The past was placed in the narrator’s memory which essentially carried up questions, how that the memory work? In the other words, the narrator who was nameless had chosen explicit sections to represent his invisibility, to assure the reader that he was right.

Therefore, it was easier to divide the narrative level in TIM than TSV. It was interesting when the narrator created an epilogue in which he came back to present. Also, he tried to communicate with the reader. “So there you have all of it that’s important. Or at least you almost have it. I’m invisible man and it placed me in a hole I was in,…” (Ellison, 1970: 461). In this state, I feel that the narrator tried to wake up the reader from his past. It also recalled the reader which was the prior story of the novel. Therefore, the number of past the narrator told became no matter. The structure of the story had guaranteed the reader to remember again what the present story was.

Nevertheless, things was different when we discuss name in both of the novel. Most of the characters in TSV was named. The meaning of them were controversial because not only its character which mimic characters in Islam, Gibrieel as Jibril, Mahound as Muhammad, Ayesha as Aisyah, Khalid as Khalid, Bilal as Bilal, Salman as Salman, and Yathrib as Yatsrib, it also, in narrative level, told story which was outside time border as if the revelation repeated again. Thus, the novel itself had become what Muslim called as bid’ah. Differ from TSV, the narrator in TIM never revealed his name. The narrator did not forget his name, though. He insisted to hide it by purpose as well as TSV which used named Mahound by purpose. Even his fake name which was given by the brotherhood was kept from the reader. The reason, indeed, was to emphasize his invisibility. Therefore, the narrator even went underground and became literally invisible from society. However, the narrator did it to realize his true identity. When the narrator exiled himself from the system he could saw himself when in college as well as what happened to Connie in LCL or Montag in Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. He considered himself to be radically different from the college version of himself. I was “all such a part of that other life that’s death that I can’t remember [myself] all. (Time was as I was, but neither that time nor that “I” are any more)” (Ellison, 1970: 34). Consequently, he thought his college version basically dead. These also emphasized by the vet who firstly said that the narrator was invisible. The vet criticized the narrator for being precisely what white people wished blacks to be.

‘…[The narrator] register with his senses but short-circuits his brain. Nothing has meaning. He takes it in but he doesn’t digest it. Already he is – well, bless my soul! Behold! A walking zombie! Already he’s learned to repress not only his emotions but his humanity. He’s invisible, a walking personification of the Negative, the most perfect achievement of [his] dreams, sir! The mechanical man! (Ellison 1970: 81).

In this moment, the narrator realized that the expelling himself from society caused his body also expelled from the body of environment. Thus, the narrator could see his body as machine. The word, mechanical man, consequently, became important because the narrator looked to himself through his mother, especially by asking “who was my mother? Mother, the one who screams when you suffer – but who? …” The narrator questioned whether “[a] machine my mother?” because “the scream came from the machine” (Ellison, 1970: 196). However in the end of chapter 11, the narrator had chosen, probably, thinking identity he had. The narrator “had no desire to destroy [himself] even if it destroyed the machine… [He] could not more escape than [he] could think of [his] identity… [After]…discover[ing] who [he are, he’ll] be free” (Ellison, 1970: 198). I think that it had become clear. The narrator tried to be invisible but the way he narrated his stories was very much aware. Showing by the tense which sometimes changed into present, the narrator was aware of his self which as well as his identity. Instead of using his name, the reader should know the narrator identity’s in his stories.

TSV, however, clearly had used binary opposition, angel and devil, in the name of main character, Gibreel Farisha and Salahuddin Chamcha. Both of them grew up as Muslim but abandoned their faith before the plane hijacking. It therefore, illustrated the uncomfortable interchange between Islam and secularism in both of their lives. Gibreel was really promiscuous while Saladin negated to date a Jewish woman. Both of them was the only two who survived from a plane crash after the hijacking. The work showed the reincarnation both of the men. After the accident, Gibrel began to take the personality and physical characteristics of the archangel Gibreel while Salahuddin changed his name to Saladin and malformed into an incarnation of Satan. It also showed in their names. Gibreel Farisha literally meant “the angel Gibreel,” who was one of the angels Muslim should believe. Saladin meant, according to Zeeny, “Mister Toady” (Rushdie, 2008:61). However, the reincarnation also seemed ironic. Although both of them would continue to reflect both angelic and satanic qualities, in the end, what seemed get inspired was Saladin by changing back his name to Salahuddin Chamcha and transformed back to human while Gibreel had killed many people and murder himself.

Consequently, binary opposition here was not constant. The work had succeed in criticize the notion of Angel (always good) and Satan (always bad) by using its ambiguous of both of the characters. Theses ambiguity also raised a question about faith and doubt. Gibreel and Saladin had to measured and ponder over what they believe right. Both of them had to rethink their atheism after facing the supernatural events. The main characters never entirely certain and it reflected in how the narrator narrated the story. Other characters, Ayesha and the Imam were completely committed of their belief and truth, but they, in the end, grew corrupt due to never experiencing doubt. On the other hand, Gibreel and Saladin who hesitated kept develop through their inner struggles. In other words, it created another irony which Muslim should do faith. It questioned again what faith is? (Rushdie, 2008: 95)

Question: What is the opposite of faith?
Not disbelief. Too final, certain, closed. Itself a kind of belief.

Therefore, the hesitation theme in The Satanic Verse became important due to fanaticism of Islam consider faith as something which is taken for granted. Adipurwawidjana followed that the hesitation, which became a major issue in TSV, about the sacred things, was clearly served without any shame. Moreover, the novel used humors so that it looked like mocking at it (2005: 77). The mocking thing happened to TIM in which the narrator said that he was invisible but in the narrative he was entirely visible. Thus, Ambiguity could make a work became controversial. It was not only susceptible toward censorships but also the probability to be meant differently by the reader.
Adipurwawidjana, A. J.; Amalia, L.; & Manggong, L. (2005). Ambivalensi Naratif dan Transisi Sosial: Lady Chatterley’s Lover dan The Satanic Verse dalam Kalam: Jurnal Kebudayaan 2005. Jakarta: Yayasan Kalam.

Bradbury, Ray. (2012). The Martian Chronicles (paperback edition). New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks.

Ellison, Ralph. (1970). The Invisible Man. Middlesex: Penguin Book.

Rushdie, Salman. (2008). The Satanic Verse. New York: Random House Trade.


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One response to “The Narrative Level: Problems in the Satanic Verse and the Invisible Man

  1. Pingback: Ambiguous Identity and Misunderstanding in the Invisible Man and the Buddha in Suburbia – Writing Your Life

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