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  • Writer's pictureAlan Bray

The End of Omniscience

The narrational style of Now We Shall Be Entirely Free shifts from beginning to end. We’ve talked about how, in the beginning, it is classic omniscient, the narrator inhabiting many of the characters’ consciousness to show the story. As things develop, though, there is an increasing focus on just two, Lacroix, the protagonist, and Calley, the antagonist. A central character, Emily, who becomes Lacroix’s partner, is always shown in traditional third person narration; the reader never has access to her private thoughts, only by inference from her speech and actions.

Ernesto Medina is the only other character who is inhabited by the narrator beyond the middle of the book.

This style of narration is often called close third-person.

· It uses third person pronouns, but moves the point of view from outside of the characters to inside of a single character’s psyche, where emotions, thoughts, and assumptions become available, and where tactile details and actions external to the character are filtered through that characters’ individual experience.

· It tells the tale in the individual characters’ voice, not in the voice of a consistent narrator (or author).

What effect does this shift have?

There is an end to omniscience, and, as a result, many of the characters become more mysterious. Emily for instance, by virtue of always being shown from others’ perspective—almost always Lacroix, although there is an intriguing “sighting” of her by Medina. Come to think of it, Emily is always mysterious—without sight but able to “see.” (Check out that ending).

The shift tightens the focus on the two central characters and increases the reader’s rapport with them. The story tacks back and forth between the two up to their final confrontation, which is all Lacroix’s point-of-view. I think if the omniscient narration had been maintained throughout, darting in and out of Emily, Ranald, Captain Browne, Jane, and Cornelius, et al, the story would have lost focus and tension. However, it’s worth noting that the omniscient narration contributes to the book’s initial early nineteenth century style. The style shifts to a more modern mode—obviously not what a nineteenth-century book would have done. Does rigor and discipline suffer?

Give me a break.

The close third person narration that develops is wonderfully suited to showing the drama of the latter part of the book. Calley gets closer and closer to his target—Lacroix—and at the same time, seems to express more vulnerability, telling Medina more about his terrible childhood. When he kills Medina, it seems to be almost a crime of passion due to the intimacy that has developed. Medina tells Calley he is going to leave him; Medina’s inner consciousness reveals he thinks Calley is nuts. And Calley murders him, apparently because he rebels against Calley’s control. Like an abusive husband faced with a wife who refuses further domination, he reacts with extreme violence. The close third person allows the story to express the complexity of Calley’s emotion.

“When you were small,” said Medina. “A boy. Who was your friend?”

Calley made a noise, something connected to laughter but not laughter…”There were other boys,” he said. “In the yard. I can’t remember our games.”…Each man’s face was a thing of fire and shadow.

After he shoots Medina, Calley continues conversations with him (Gollum-like, my precious). “He dug deep in one of his many pockets, pulled out the brass case…He was not sure Medina had seen him palm it. ‘Did you see me, you sly dog?’ And he grinned and thought, I’d give it to him now, if he were here, if he wanted it.”

Perhaps that is how many murderers think of their victims. I don’t know.

It’s interesting how after the last scene in Calley’s head—when he walks on water to the island where Lacroix is going—he fades into one-dimensionality, becoming monster-like, which is the way Lacroix experiences him.

Lacroix is shown confessing his guilt regarding the atrocities in Spain to Emily, whom he loves. It is in many ways the climax of the book. As mentioned last week, Emily disconfirms Lacroix’s sense of guilt, and in fact, shows him just how she feels about him. “I do not know how to judge any of this. It is not for me to judge it…But I do not feel disgraced by knowing you. Nor do I wish to be free of you.” (A nice echo of the title).

Lacroix’s confession apparently only strengthens her affiliative feelings—I say apparently because we have no access to her consciousness, only to her behavior.

Then too, Lacroix is shown grappling with the appalling realization that Calley is after him. Throughout the story, Lacroix has felt wracked by guilt and deserving of punishment. Now, after having been forgiven by Emily, he learns that a real-life nemesis is after him, a crazed killer whom he’s warned to kill quickly because he’ll only get one chance. Whatever his own worth is, he feels he must protect Emily, especially after Calley assaults the saintly Ranald.

Because of the shift in narratorial style, the book becomes more modern. Whereas in the beginning the reader has a sense of being told a story from long ago, at the end, there is a contemporary feel that contributes to immediacy and emotional engagement.


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