SOU of ‘Magic’ --- Embedded narrative and cruelty of human nature
Katherine Anne Porter, the renowned American novelist, is distinguished for her thematic concern to the nature of evilness and sophisticated mastery of narratology. The short story ‘Magic’ is a prominent manifestation of the author’s consummate artistry.
One prominent characteristic of this short story is the technique of embedded narrative. ‘Magic’ constitutes double narrative levels which are the frame narrative and the embedded narrative. In the frame narrative, the story is told by an omniscient narrative, concerning the Negro maid telling Madame Blanchard while combing her hair; in the embedded narrative, the story is told by the Negro maid about the miserable story of a prostitute named Ninette. Obscuring the boundary of two narrative levels intentionally, the author highlights the content of the embedded story, attracting readers to the tragic plight of Ninette. It is proposed by Doc. Tang Wei-sheng that ‘embedded narrative can be employed to fulfill the intended rhetoric purposes and to manipulate or influence the cognitive process on the reader’s part’, which can be well demonstrated in ‘Magic’ by probing into the rhetoric purposes of the Negro maid and the author. If we read the frame narrative careful enough, we can notice the furtive similarity it shares with the embedded narrative: the madam and Madame Blanchard both possess money and higher status, which are obtained by their close connection with the patriarchal society; the Negro maid and the cook are both colored women, and perhaps the maid also excels in magic like the cook. Thus, we can infer that the purpose of the maid telling the story of Ninette being brought back by the cook’s magic is to manifest her own power which can be seen as a threat to Madame Blanchard or an oath of allegiance to Madame Blanchard. As for the embedded story, we can also dig out more information by scrupulous reading. In the end of the story, Ninette seems to be brought back by the cook’s magic; however, the sentence‘The madam had full understanding with the police; the girls must come back with them or go to the jails. Well, they always came back with the policemen or with other kind of men friend of the madam: she could make men work for her too, but she paid them very well for all, let me tell you...’indicates that Ninette is actually defeated by the formidable power of the madam. In light of this, it is safe to say that the purpose of author is to reveal the evil social force and certain sinister social system which is supported and controlled by the patriarchy and the powerless rebellion of the disadvantaged.
Katherine Anne Porter’s short novels embraces one common feature which is the theme of betrayal, darkness of the society and the cruelty of human nature. This short story is no exception. Based on the Freud theory, the author harbors the view that evilness is the basic nature of mankind. Written in a simple style, the author probes into the evilness and cruelty of human, generating profound and diverse morals. In the embedded story, the author describes the ferocity of the madam and the cook through they tormenting the prostitute named Ninette mercilessly. Obsessed in her own interests, the madam abuses Ninette physically and mentally, which drives Ninette to escape from that brothel. The cook also gives her full play of viciousness by being the accomplice of the madam and takes the initiative to exert witchcraft in order to bring Ninette back. While depicting the cruelty of the madam and the cook, the author also assails the corrupt, brutal and indifferent society which is the bane of alike tragedies. In the frame story, the author portray the cruel Madam Blanchard who also harbours a cruel heart. Hearing the heartrending story of Ninette, all the response of Madam Blanchard are just cold ‘and then what’and‘yes and then?’,illustrating her cruelty and lack of compassion in nature.
By representing the theme of evilness and darkness of human nature, the author voices that the goodness of human is just the illusion from which human express the beautifying of themselves, but which in reality can only leads to disaster. And she also conveys the idea that people should face this truth so as to foster goodness and restrain evilness in themselves.
Magic, employing the technique of embedded narrative and theme of cruelty of human, shows the sophisticated artistry of Katherine Anne Porter, generating profound morals and inexhaustible aftertaste.