The Role of the Narrator in The Good Soldier

A narrator is a person who gives a running commentary for a literary work. Most narrators, as with the majority of people, are not objective. This leads to the narrator giving a biased view to his story. Many people would believe that a biased narrator is no longer an effective narrator, but I disagree. An effective narrator is one who can tell a story well by keeping things in some sort of order and maintaining the reader’s interest. A biased narrator can sometimes be better than an objective one; his biases can be so extreme or unusual that the reader is held captive by the narrator’s story.

John Dowell, the narrator in this excerpt from The Good Soldier, has the makings to be an effective narrator. His first sentence is perfect. “This is the saddest story I have ever heard,” leaves the reader wanting to hear more on two levels. If the reader believes him, then the reader is will be curious to know what was so sad. On the other hand, if the reader is a skeptic and thinks to himself, “this cannot possibly be such a sad story,” he will read it just to prove the Dowell incorrect.

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The metaphor that embodies the second sentence is wonderful. It helps the reader to really get a feel of the Dowell’s relationship with the Ashburnhams. How can your know people as well as it is possible to know anybody, but not know anything about them? This is the question that the third sentence raises. This sentence contradicts itself, which I have a problem with, but it gets the reader more interested in the rest of the story because he will want to fully understand what the narrator means by his contradiction.

Dowell cleverly connects the first three sentences with the rest of the introduction by saying that he does not understand English people. This allows him to really start his story from the beginning. What is the “affair” that he speaks of? Who and what does it involve? This is another point where Dowell leaves the reader yearning to continue the story. At the end of the first paragraph is where he truly begins his story, but it is also another point where he leaves the reader wanting for more. … I had never sounded the depths of and English heart. I had known the shallows,” could mean so much, and it leaves the reader wondering to himself what the narrator means. It could mean that he had never loved and English woman, or that he never had any close English friends. The second sentence in the second paragraph, at first glance seems like a contradiction, but then I see that it is a clever way to say that Americans work too much and to be leisured is un-American.

I also think he is saying that he was in the upper class because he said that he lived with the society of “nicer” English, where, I believe, nicer means richer. The last statement of this excerpt raises many questions. Why should we gather that one of them has a heart? Is it from the last lines of the first paragraph? What did his wife suffer from? All of these questions leave the reader wanting to turn the page to find out the answers. From what I have read, John Dowell is a very effective narrator. He really knows how to maintain the reader’s interest.

Dowell is an expert of cliffhangers. As a reader you are just dying to turn the page to get a better understanding of what he is saying. What’s more is that Dowell is an excellent writer. He does not just hand information over to the reader, he uses metaphors and analogies to make your think while you read. Dowell also has some order to this introduction. First he gives us a little background on his relationship with the Ashburnhams, then he imparts upon us a bit of his own personal history. John Dowell is a picture perfect fit to my definition of an effective narrator.