Friday, August 29, 2008

The New Yorker: "Gorse is Not People" by Janet Frame

When the magazine publishes a found story by a dead author, I suppose all the rules go out the window. One can’t expect that a story written in 1954, as this one was, will resemble a modern story or follow modern conventions. And so there isn’t much choice but to give in to the story’s oddities and enjoy it. So, the first thing to note is that is the second Janet Frame story published this year; the first one came out in May and I commented on it here. The second thing to note is that a commenter at that time pointed out that Frame herself had been institutionalized as a young woman and came close to being lobotomized. I had not known that, but it puts this new story in different light.

Here we have Naida, a dwarf who has long lived in an institution. She looks forward to the day when she turns 21 so that she will be free, she can marry “the pig boy” whom she says she loves, and she can spend her honeymoon in Hollywood or Mexico City, which has not yet been decided. But Naida must first undergo an evaluation, although she doesn’t understand that it is an evaluation. And because she has not been educated, because her view of the world is distorted, it is clear that they will not let her free and that her dreams will remain only dreams.

This is a chilling result that the reader anticipates, but it’s the only way the story could end. If I have a quarrel with this piece it is in the opening, which is addressed directly to the reader by some unidentified narrator who then proceeds to tell the story of Naida. And I think it is reasonable to want to know who the narrator is and why he or she is telling the story. And we don’t get those answers. It’s a minor complaint, I think, in a moving story.

September 1, 2008: “Gorse is Not People” by Janet Frame

10 comments:

Maryanne Stahl said...

hi, Cliff. I just posted a note on the earlier Frame story entry, but I'll repeat it: Do you know(of) Zoetroper and author Rachael King? Frame's biographer, Michael King, was her father, tragically killed in an auto accident a couple of years ago.

Clifford Garstang said...

I did not know that. Thanks, Maryanne.

Jane said...

I don't understand the title, or it's relevance, please, please offer me your thought.

Clifford Garstang said...

The title. Well. Yes. Um. I don't know. Anyone?

When Naida is going into town with the nurse she spots the gorse in the field and she is delighted with its freedom--it is free even though it doesn't have a birthday. She wants to be with the gorse, where she'll be free (I think she knows at this point that she'll never be free). Her story will go on like this forever, as the last lines say, like the brick puppetry that repeats itself forever and the gorse that knows no season and the gorse is free because "gorse is not people."

I have no idea.

Heather said...

I think point of the narrative is that you never really do know who's speaking...if it's a nurse, or the pig-boy, or if Naida is a delusion.

Paul Epstein said...

I understand this story as political fiction in the tradition of Upton Sinclair. The narrator (according to my own reading) is a social reformer who is writing a fictionalized and polemical piece to illustrate the tragic consequences of the 1928 Mental Defectives Act. As evidence for my interpretation, note from the final para "And so on. The same thing, over and over;" To me, this says that the story isn't just about Nadia but all the other sufferers of this cruel Act.
I disagree with the notion that there are point-of-view problems with the narration. Part of my disagreement stems from my bias towards literal interpretations. I would never agree with Heather that there is a possibility that "Naida is a delusion" because I don't think there's a jot of textual evidence for that.

Paul Epstein

David George said...

The story is not a work of political fiction. It is written as fiction but is based on Janet Frame's experience of going to Dunedin with "Naida" from Seacliff hospital. Janet Frame herself was repreived from a lobotomy because the hospital chaplain alerted staff to the fact that she had won a literay award for the book "The Reservoir".

Paul Epstein said...

David,

It's too dogmatic in my opinion to assert so bluntly "This story is not a work of political fiction." The story can certainly be read as an indictment of the "Mental Defectives Act" even if the author's interpretation of her own work is different from mine.

Paul Epstein

Sandra O. said...

This is about the Question of not understanding the title. Gorse is a kind of shrub. It grows in places it's not wanted. It's like naida. She too is unwanted. She sees their freedom and she wants that. She wants to be like that. She wishes that there were others like her. The gorse are everywhere and there are many of them. Naida is alone in the world. So if gorse were people she would have others like her. But...."Gorse IS Not People."

♥S

Mark Richardson said...

I'm not sure who the narrator is. Isn't is just a standard third person narrative? I did like the beginning, however, where the narrator addresses the reader directly. You may know what it is to be free, but here is a story of someone who doesn't. It was a great read!